Stones at Sandymouth, Bude, Cornwall.
When I saw this a few months ago, I just knew I had to enter:
I’ve long been a fan of the avant-garde film maker, Maya Deren, and here was the perfect excuse to revisit her work and life and turn it into a monologue.
Early one morning, I go out into the low-lying mist, following the muffled gong of the bells. They are rung at shrines all over Bhaktapur to announce the arrival of the devotee for puja. A woman in a vermillian sari and scarlet haku gacha brings her offering of rice, tika power, and sweet burning incense to a shrine dedicated to Sarasvati, the goddess of learning. She takes some holy water from a little copper pot and flicks it lightly over the idol, circumambulating the shrine clockwise to complete her rite. We acknowledge each other as I pass with a small bow, hands together:
Namaste. I salute the god within you.
Later, in , I sit with a sketchpad on my knee, not really drawing, but trying to absorb the essence of this place with its dusty brick streets, medieval courtyards, communal wells and beautiful Newari architecture. Behind me towers the resplendent five-tiered Nyatapola Temple, sacred to the goddess Siddha Laxmi. Surrounding the city, at eight points of the compass, are shrines to the protective Asta Matrika goddesses, each one presiding over her own area of the city. They are said to demarcate the boundaries between order and chaos, internal and external realms, seen and unseen forces. At the centre of the mandala, a ninth goddess, Tripurasundari has a temple. Her inner shrine that lies within the palace, is out of bounds for all but the officiating priests.
Two girls come over, and I offer them my book and paints. One draws a flower, and colours it bright red, the other, a house. They write their names in Nepalese beneath. I have a blurry picture of them in their aunt’s craft shop, smiling, the famous medieval peacock window, Mhaykhā Jhyā (म्हयखाझ्याः) in the background. They give me a tour of their section of the city, introducing me to relatives and friends at work in their printing, clothing and craft businesses.
We exchange gifts before we part. I give them a silver compact mirror engraved with Celtic knotwork. They give me a small wooden carving of the head of Ganesha.
I hope that the Asta Matrika protected those girls and their families during the chaos that was to come three months later when the earthquake struck. I will never know, only that some of the temples and shrines that I photographed and admired are no longer there. I am certain that amongst all the devastation and loss in Bhaktapur, two things will endure: the deep spirituality of its people, and their close-knit community, both of which I was so privileged to witness.
Found – Tesco aisle, Cardiff. 27/02/18
Found – Gutter of Corporation road, Cardiff. 18/02/2018
Found – Bute park, Cardiff. 06/08/17
Found – Glastonbury, 08/17
For the past five months, I’ve been a creative practitioner in a primary school, working with a storyteller to produce a record of the stories about the local area surrounding the school. We have covered a vast time period, from the Bronze age, right up to the mid-19th century. I have been using printmaking with the children to produce flags and banners to decorate a structure in the grounds now known as the ‘Tŷ unnos’, or ‘One-Night house’. In old Welsh law, it was stated that anyone who could build a house on common ground in a night, with a fire in the hearth by morning could own the land as a freehold.
This project has been a good thing on many levels. Firstly, through the stories researched and brought to life by Lowri, we have been celebrating, drawing and printmaking about forgotten truths. Since history is usually written by the victors – wealthy and often unscrupulous, we rarely get to hear the stories of the dispossessed whose lives they have trampled. Such was the fate of the dwellers of the Great Heath back in the 1800s when the Marquess of Bute successfully prosecuted a ‘squatter’ and began systematically to evict the Heath dwellers by setting their homes on fire. Through acting and drawing, we have brought a voice to the forgotten people of the Heath. We have created a banner in honour of the ‘Amazing Amazonians of the Heath’ – women, who, according to reports of the time, ‘acted the part of Amazonians, having armed themselves with pitchforks…’
We have also brought to life a poor young woman named Catherine Price who worked as a maid in one of the big houses, and in 1791, was hung at the gibbet on the Heath for stealing a plate and some clothes. She is imprinted on another of the banners that hang from the window of the Tŷ unnos, telling her story to the generations of children that play there.
Banners and flags are interspersed all around the Tŷ unnos, drawn and printed by the children and myself in response to the tales. The map below is a record of traditional Welsh myths that Lowri shared with the children.