A flowering artform

Exhibition shows how botanical art can help us find our place in the natural world

Artworks by Neera Joshi Pradhan. Photos: Studio Petals

Botanical art exists in the space between art and science, beyond aesthetics. It predates photography, and the original purpose of the discipline was to capture and document plant life to aid scientific study.

Flower drawings were first done in Nepal in 1802 by Francis Buchanan-Hamilton who collected and documented over 1,100 plant varieties mainly in eastern Nepal, taking samples and illustrations back to Edinburgh for further scientific inquiry.

Despite occupying only 0.1% of the earth’s surface area, Nepal has 3.2% of the planet’s flora, making it the 27th most bio-diverse country in the world. 

Now, Studio Petal’s unique exhibition ‘Blissful Nature’ showcases the work of five contemporary artists, each with a brilliant individual skillset but collectively illustrating the intricate beauty of Nepal’s plant life as well as few other exotic species.

Neera Joshi Pradhan of Studio Petals has taken Nepal’s rich botanical art history and expanded it, making the discipline accessible and using her decades of experience to educate and equip the next generation of Botanical Artists to leave their mark.

Joshi Pradhan has exhibited her floral work many times since she set up Studio Petal in 2004. However, this is the first time her students are showcasing their work alongside the mentor.

Botanical art
Artworks by Jamyang Wangmo.

Jamyang Wangmo is a Spanish Buddhist nun who has been painting and documenting Nepali plant life for over 20 years. She originally started out with thangka and depictions of deities, but after noticing the beauty of altar flowers she turned her artistic passion to floral drawings.

“I just knew I had to paint it,” Wangmo says simply.

Despite botanical art’s proximity to objective science, Wangmo’s art comes from intuitive inspiration. In particular, the bright and joyful depiction of the five holy flowers in her debut exhibition comes directly from the pages of Tibetan texts but it is brought to life by her own imagination, evoking a sense of wonder among viewers.

JoAnne Pach Koirala, on the other hand, is an educator who has lived in Nepal for 40 years. Born into a family of artists, she was surrounded by art her entire childhood, but it was only five years ago that she started creating her own work.

Initially inspired by the botanical life in her own garden, it is her loved ones that really spark her creative spirit. Working on her watercolours, she often thinks of those closest to her so that they are subtly invoked in her art, giving shape and life to the still images.

Botanical art

For Amy Ingham, botanical art is simple and yet calming.

“Botanical painting is wonderful in its simplicity, but deceptively so. Its pure observational drawing that requires such a level of precision and accuracy where there isn't really anywhere to hide,” says Amy Ingham, one of the five artists at the exhibition.

She adds: “There's something wonderfully calming about that process, as well as the subject matter and end product. And why I started painting with Neera is simple. It's an absolute privilege to be able to do so, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands!"

Botanical art
Artworks of Amy Ingham.

Jari Laukka is a Finnish environmental scientist who originally came to Nepal to work on water and sanitation projects. Biodiversity was always an interest, but it was not until 2020 that Laukka got interested in botanical art.

After completing his assignment, Laukka took Joshi Pradhan’s course at Studio Petal which ignited his passion for the discipline. Botanical art is now a full-time pursuit, and Laukka is currently taking courses at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden, all set to start a new career.

Botanical art
Artworks by Jari Laukka.

Botanical art allows not only for increased attention and visibility for plant life but also for preservation. Threatened flora can be protected in a way that gives hope to preserve the actual plants. In fact, botanical art is more than an art form, it can teach people about evolution and ecology, especially at a time of greater climate consciousness. “I hope botanical art can be used to educate people about the environment and how we can protect and manage Nepal’s rich biodiversity,” says Jari Laukka.

The exhibition Blissful Nature is a must-see for students and the next generation of Nepali artists. But hurry, the show is only till Friday.

Blissful Nature

Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal

Until 13 October

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