Arpana Rayamajhi: Beyond Beaded Chokers and Jewelry

Arpana Rayamajhi: Beyond Beaded Chokers and Jewelry

The Nepali-Born Artist Builds A Colorful And Thought-Provoking Brand

The Nepali-Born Artist Builds A Colorful And Thought-Provoking Brand

Photography: Samantha Lee Robles

Text: Andrew Nguyen

Arpana Rayamajhi is more than a jewelry designer; she is an artist. Born and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal, Arpana packed up her life, moved to Philadelphia and then ultimately landed in New York City to study at Cooper Union. Mixing the worlds of art, culture, rock and roll, and fashion among other sources of inspiration, she now has a fully realized brand as a multidisciplinary artist.

You have probably seen her opening the most recent Apple commercial—the Maya Angelou-narrated clip run during the Olympics—which features Rayamajhi proudly donning her own hand-beaded choker. Or maybe you've come across her Instagram, where she uses the platform like a portfolio of her pieces.

Sitting down with Arpana, in her warmly sunlit apartment, she shares about her childhood, her art, her brand, and the wisdom passed on to her while pursuing a life of engagement, passion, and creativity.

How did you come to crafting jewelry and starting your brand?

I was very broke even though I had a full-tuition scholarship because living in New York is ridiculously expensive, and a lot of things that I really liked were expensive, mass produced, or both. Despite how New York loves to talk about individuality (and the culture here is based around it), I felt like there was a general norm of the market, and I did not see things that stood out for me. So I started making things out of necessity because I wanted something unique. That led to my friends in school asking me where I bought the piece. One thing led to the next—my friends were buying it, and their friends were buying it. Then finally, I succumbed to social media. I said, “Ok. I’m going to do this.”  It’s sort of snowballed from there and so far so good!

How has your Nepali background influenced your work?

Growing up, I really loved seeing my mother and the women in my family wear beads, glass bangles, color, and jewelry. As a teenager, there was a desire to go away from that because I saw it everywhere all the time. It’s also become a method for me to connect to my culture while living away from Nepal. It not only connects me in an aesthetic or artistic sense, but also in an anthropological way, to Nepal and even other parts of the world. Apart from that, the reason why I do what I do is because it’s predominantly a craft of the women. I have a very specific experience as a Nepali person, but I also have a very specific experience and connection as a Nepali woman.

Do you have a specific person in mind now that you sell to other people?

Generally, I like to make work for people that are willing to push their own boundaries and try new things. I’m not interested in trying to please the market as much. I’m making work for people who can see past the ornamentation aspect of my jewelry. As an artist or designer doing business, it’s absolutely crucial to have the kind of consumers you want to sell your work to which is something that I’m learning. But at the moment, I am so focused on showing people what I can do—showing my love for color, ideas, and concepts that aren’t just design driven, but also come from different cultural references like music or books, art, and even socio-political issues.

Is there any underlying message that you wish to impart with your pieces?

I would like to be able to talk about “value” and how we place value in society through my work. I personally think that it’s very arbitrary. Precious things that are monopolized are worth a lot before any work even goes into it, while an artist or a craftsman can work on a project for days or weeks or years, and it can still be really not valued.

What do you have planned next?

I just worked on a series called “All That Glitters Is Gold.”  I like the play on words. And I have some new projects I am working on at the moment that I wouldn’t like to disclose.

Are there any significant experiences in your life that have led you to be the person and artist that you are today?

I’ve lost my parents, but the time when both my mom and dad were alive, when I was younger, helped set the foundation for me artistically. My father’s sketchbook and my mother being an actor helped me have a creative upbringing and see it as a way of life. Losing them has affected my work a lot but I have always made “things” since I was a kid.

What is a piece of wisdom that you hold dear?

We are all going to die. Death is the biggest teacher that I’ve had. To understand that one day I’m going to die tells me that I should live my life as honestly as I can to myself, while also being able to be self-reflective and give to others. Of course, it is difficult to remember or always be conscious of it, but the way I perceive the world and life and everything, really, has shifted drastically. And I guess to understand that nothing lasts forever, or what this whole thing is about is pretty important for me.

Visit Rayamajhi's work on her website, here.

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