Raj Kumar Shakya’s family had been into traditional artwork ever since the latter days of the Malla dynasty (13th-18th century).
The eldest son in the family, Shakya was already into the family profession by the time he was seven. Despite starting so early, Shakya was comfortable working with older artists and taking on large-scale projects. They taught him valuable lessons on perseverance and patience, which in turn would serve him well throughout his career.
By the time he was in his early 20s, Shakya, who embraced repousse (metalwork that involves hammering into relief from the reverse side), had begun working on independent projects. He improved on traditional techniques with the help of modern and scientific methods.
Shakya was one of only a handful of Nepali sculptors to follow this dying technique, which requires precision and patience to accomplish grand-scale projects. He would eventually be known, not just in Nepal, but around the world for his grand repousse works. Some even compare him to Arniko, the artist who introduced Nepali architecture in China.
Shakya was best known for the 155 ft tall repousse statue of Guru Padhmasambhava, revered by the Bhutanese as the ‘Second Buddha’, who spread the teachings of the Buddha all over the country. He was commissioned in 2010. The masterpiece fusion work of contemporary and traditional art took almost two years just to sketch. Made of 70,000 kg of copper weighing about 300 tons, Bhutan revealed the repousse statue to the world in 2014.
Shakya also played an instrumental role in showcasing Nepali repousse work on the global stage. His works include the 12 ft tall mask of Shwet Bhairav, 76 feet tall Swayambhu Stupa for the World Expo in Germany 2000, 40 ft tall Tibetan Stupa at Kapan Monastery, 100 ft towering Swayambhu for the Nepal Pavilion at Shanghai World Expo 2010, and a 50 ft tall Little Buddha at Lumbini.
Shakya had recently been working on a 72-ft tall Bhairav mask. Unfortunately, the masterpiece has been orphaned as he passed away from covid-related complications at the age of 54. He is survived by a wife and two sons.