Critics’ Picks

View of “Mvah Cha,” 2020. Photo: Andrea Veneri.

View of “Mvah Cha,” 2020. Photo: Andrea Veneri.


Namsal Siedlecki

Fondazione Pastificio Cerere
Via degli Ausoni, 7
September 23–November 30, 2020

“Nothing grows on diamonds / flowers grow in the dung,” goes a 1967 verse by Fabrizio De André, one of the most beloved Italian singer-songwriters of all time. Mvaḥ Chā, the word that provides the title for this exhibition by Italian American artist Namsal Siedlecki, refers to the compound of clay, cow excrement, and pula (a casing made from rice grains) traditionally used in Nepalese foundries to protect the wax forms that make way for bronze castings. This rough mortar, extracted from waste, constructs a coarse and resistant layer that adheres to the wax core, imprinting sinuous, abstract embryonic shapes: quite different from the boxy enclosures made of plaster that are used in Western production.

During a 2019 residency in Kathmandu supported by the Italian Council grant, Siedlecki selected from Nepalese foundries several in-transit “cocoons” containing sections of sacred sculptures ready for casting. He then replicated them in bronze, granting each cocoon new, unforeseen meanings. Five large sculptures and other smaller pieces were derived from this process, all part of a series titled “Mvaḥ Chā (Chrysalises)” and arranged on plinths of various heights in the main gallery of this exhibition, curated by Marcello Smarrelli. Money, fruit, eggs, liqueurs, and sweets sit at the base of these creations, like votive offerings seen in Nepalese temples. Viewers are called upon to leave something of their own. The artist’s reflection is of an anthropological nature: a comparison between the twentieth-century biomorphs of Moore, Arp, and Brancusi and the first-century Central Asian tradition—what the artist calls a primordial generator of “involuntary, functional abstractions, necessary for attaining figuration.” Through authorial renunciation and a deference to chance, Siedlecki opens sculptural language up, molting distinctions between natural and artificial, art and artisanship, offering and refusal.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.