Youdhi Maharjan Works
I am interested in the idea of Sisyphean eternity, monotonous repetition of the same labor over and over again, with no hope or expectation for an end. In the process, I experience different kind of eternity, the sweet kind, that lasts for few material moments, but feels like forever, where the time stops, and with it, stops all my questions and worries, where I am free from my existential burden and get a little closer to myself.
- Youdhi Maharjan
Maharjan’s installations and and prints are made from repurposed texts, which he strips of their legible content. In interviews, Maharjan has cited writings by Beckett (Waiting for Godot) and Camus (The Myth of Sisyphus) as his artistic inspiration, as well as the Buddhist Thangka (painting on cotton textile). His rich personal history is also ingrained his work -- Maharjan was educated at a military academy in his native Nepal, originally looking to become a doctor before turning to the arts. He uses the rigid, mathematical repetition learned from childhood as a source of meditation when creating his pieces.
Although he doesn’t identify as a Buddhist, Youdhi Maharjan’s (b. 1984) artistic process is guided by Buddhist ideology and philosophy. Slowing down time, practicing patience, setting intentions, and finding comfort in the eternal process of work all turn Maharjan’s artistic method into a meditative bliss. Having trained in math and science in military school in Nepal and having studied creative writing and art history in undergrad, Maharjan puts these diverging subjects in conversation with one another. His works are formulaically repetitive as if borrowing from the scientific method, while they are also textually liberating, freeing words and letters from the restrictions of language and the physical page. Maharjan is a collage artist who repurposes thrifted books by dissecting and reconstructing their pages. Heavily influenced by texts such as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus and Buddhist Thangka, a painting on cotton textile made for teaching or meditation purposes, Maharjan’s work is grounded in its labor intensiveness. “When you take your focus out of the end product and do anything you find joy in doing, the process itself is the end in itself and is not the means to get something,” says Maharjan. The artist’s work is an example of process art, or procedural poetics, in which the process becomes the artwork itself and the artist can repeat the same actions with different results each time. Repetition does not mean replication, but rather repetition is a form of meditation that detaches us from the enslavement of meaning and purpose. One of Maharjan’s most laborious works is a nine-mile-long rope-like construction made out of entwined pieces of found newspapers titled Swayambhu which is Sanskrit for “self-born” or “self-manifesting.” Swayambhu looks like a large ball of yarn which Maharjan is committed to expanding until the day his fingers and eyes fail him. Art for Maharjan is a lifelong practice similar to the way Buddhist monks dedicate their lives to religious order. Youdhi Maharjan, Swayambhu A recurring variable in Maharjan’s formulas is the letter O, a reference to shunyata, or emptiness, which in Buddhist ideology is more closely aligned with a spiritual fullness than it is with a nihilistic nothingness. Sometimes, like in Servants of the Map, the empty holes where O’s once resided on the page are connected into a cosmic order of constellations as if mapping out the book’s fate like a natal chart. Other times, like in Archives of the Universe, O’s are the only letters that are left visibly printed on the page while the rest are concealed by white acrylic paint. Each capital O is connected by a straight line that forms a central web or what looks as if it could be an explorer’s atlas, while the lowercase o’s are left suspended in the spaces between. In Restless Waters, pages are shredded into threadlike filaments that are tangled like a curly mess of hair, the thin shreds curling into O shapes that cast circular shadows on the wall behind it, echoing the printed O’s left on each strip of paper. Inside My Heart shows a page whose letters have been cut out and pasted over each other to form a thick circular band ensconcing a nucleic “o” as if it were a tiny planet with the gravitational pull of the sun. Youdhi Maharjan, Inside My Heart From my minimal readings on Buddhism, I have gathered that emptiness comprises a variety of meanings. Emptiness can describe the process of subtracting the self from our experience of reality so as to free us from the chains of subjectivity. By practicing reaching a state of “non-self,” everything becomes a boundless agent with an ever unfolding future—a book can sit on a shelf as a novel, hang on a wall as fine art, or stand alone as a sculpture. In a state of emptiness, nothing is determined and everything is constantly reborn in an eternal present. Emptiness can also remind us that we each contain within ourselves everything we need to flourish, that it is when we lean into our emptiness that we are most whole. Maharjan has described his works as “autopoietic”—from the texts fatefully finding him in secondhand shops to surrendering himself to the artistic process with an unplanned result, each work is borne entirely from itself. We do not see Maharjan’s hand in his art, and rather than taking on the role of a traditional artist, Maharjan becomes somewhat Shamanistic in his practice by conjuring the soul of his work and bringing to the forefront the beauty that is already contained within it, storied reincarnations brought about by ritualistic processes. I recently read a book of teachings by South Indian philosopher Krishnamurti where I came upon this quote: “The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” What is fascinating about Krishnamurti’s teachings is that many of them are antithetical to what we have been taught and trained to think and do, at least in Western culture. Both Maharjan and Krishnamurti encourage us to unlearn the beliefs and rules that have been etched in us from a young age, to undo our obsession with attaching meaning and purpose to every atom of our existence. As the Existentialists understood, our world becomes extremely small and limited when we live a life full of assumptions about what everything means. Maharjan’s fascination with creating “purposeless objects” echoes Krishnamurti’s teaching to live in between the details of everyday life. Whereas our evaluations can veer into illusion, our observations feed into our emptiness and keep us grounded in reality. Youdhi Maharjan, Love is the Answer I first learned about Maharjan when my boyfriend gifted me Last Word, a page ripped out of Toni Morrison’s Paradise with every miniscule letter precisely cut out and arranged to form a triangle encircling the only uncarved word left on the page: love. Valentine’s Day 2021 was the first time we had spoken those three little terrifying words to each other thanks to a little bit of Youdhi’s help. Fast forward to Christmas when he gifted me another work by Maharjan entitled Days of Joy, Days of Sorrow, this time a square woven textual quilt with the title hanging off of the top right corner like a tag. There are numerous reasons why seeing Maharjan’s work hanging on my wall every day makes me feel at home. Those works have a significant sentimental value since they were gifted at momentous points in our relationship, but they are also extremely personal and intimate in the way they relate to my own history with collaging. For a long time, I have been intrigued by the way art can infinitely be recycled and reborn. I remember the way learning about erasure poems and centos in my high school English class opened up an entirely new creative outlet for me. My love of collaging poems and cards followed thereafter, and that became an incredibly strong bonding point between my boyfriend and me as we exchange handmade cards for every occasion. For me, Maharjan’s works have come to serve as a reminder of the unshakeable love we have for each other and the wealth of transformative energy we carry within ourselves.