In our latest edition of Creative Collaborations we team up with New Zealand-based Danish artist, Mamakan, on a series of botanical art installations, called Forestscapes. Mamakan x Esse Forestscape is an installation of foraged native flora and fauna from Mamakan’s forest, Velskov, in Parau, Waitakere Ranges and are ever-evolving art pieces that transition through the seasons.
The Forestscape artwork is a whole new approach to botanical sculpture where Mamakan has imagined a whole native forest landscape: sand becomes volcanic rock, mushrooms become mountains and foliage become giant trees. Each artwork is composed of foraged pieces from Velskov that encapsulates a landscape that can be displayed on your desk or mantle piece.
We have long been fans of Mamakan’s works, and were first introduced to Mamakan during a foraging walk in her forest. Connecting on many levels where our heritage has intersected, we found a common thread - nature, and how it is being emphasized in our work. Inspired by Mamakan’s strong love for native plants, we decided to team up to create an art installation where people could come to immerse themselves in a sensory experience where fashion, art and nature intersect.
Mamakan has lived many lives in her travels across the globe, informing her art practice. Drawing from her strong connection to her Nordic ancestry, and applying elements of her travels; her multidisciplinary art practice continues to evolve and continues to be as fascinating as the source she draws them from - nature.
We speak to Mamakan to learn more about her heritage and story.
Hi Mamakan, please tell us more about yourself.
I’m a Danish New Zealand-based botanical artist living with my family in Velskov, a native forest within the Waitakere Ranges, West of Auckland.
My family name is Oustrup, a village in Himmerland, and the home area of the crafty Cimbri tribe that once fought the Romans.
My Whakapapa goes back to the Dane tribe of east Denmark/South of Sweden as well as the Frisii tribe from the Northern area of Germany/Holland.
Mamakan wears the Relaxed Maxi Dress with Sleeves in Ponga Blue.
You’ve lived in many cities across the world (including my soul city, Aarhus, Denmark, and my hometown, Singapore) and have finally put your roots down in Auckland, New Zealand. Tell us a bit more about your odyssey across the globe.
I love this quote by Hans Christian Andersen from The Fairy Tale of My Life: An Autobiography:
“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”
When I was younger, I was very restless. The feeling, coupled with curiosity, took me across the globe, gave me valuable friendships, and taught me much. Maturity has given me the gift of letting go of the fear of settling down, replacing fear with courage to grow roots.
While my ancestral roots are in Scandinavia and my marital connections link to Asia (where my husband’s Whakapapa is from), my heart is now here, in Aotearoa.
What led you to discover your art practice, ‘GastroGeography’?
GastroGeography, the taste of place, was born on a morning walk in Singapore. Although Singapore is a foodie’s paradise, very few ingredients are grown locally. I wanted to explore what Singapore tasted like and went foraging around the city's heart. To my surprise, over a hundred edible plants were growing there, entirely overlooked by myself and other busy urbanites.
This notion of Art + Food + Nature grew into the art installation ‘GastroGeography in Singapore’, which became part of the Singapore Art Biennale in 2016 and the Singapore Heritage Festival in 2017.
We moved to New Zealand the year after. Just recently I created a local adaptation called ‘GastroGeography of Auckland’, which was very well received.
You invoke a beautiful sensory experience, especially when working with native plants in the culinary space. Where do you draw your inspiration from and what is your process?
The common theme is sensory botanical art, not just botanical illustrations although they are beautiful. I wish to create a sensory encounter with a plant that reinforces people's relationships and belonging to nature. That's my inspiration.
Artists so often get stuck in a box. He is a painter. She is a sculptor. He is a chef. She is a performer. Why? To me, the artistic media always comes second. I look for whatever art form will make the story come alive. Provenance is important. The experience should be unique, valuable, and authentic.
Why the focus on native botanicals?
Our native botanicals connect us to a place and the history of our place. New Zealand’s ancient native forests make our daily problems seem incredibly small and insignificant in the scale of time.
Why is environmental art a powerful means to create awareness around environmental conservation?
You protect an environment more fiercely when you love it. Most love grows from sensory encounters, not necessarily through environmental intellectual discourse and online campaigning. My forest is a gathering place at the crossroads between nature, art, and culture, which fights for preserving the original New Zealand forests.
We aim to re-establish our relationship with nature via sensory activities that spread knowledge of the local nature and promote the use of its resources. With "Velskov" - which in Danish refers to well-being and wealth - we seek to increase the wealth and well-being of nature, guests, and the local community.
Mamakan in the Merino Embrace Cardigan in Kumarahou Green and Cross Back Maxi Dress in Takahē Blue.
What have been some of your favourite and most memorable art installations to date?
My favorite art installation is always the one I’m working on :-).
In general, I’m excited that more and more visual artists seem to be moving into more sensory artworks and installations. I’m looking forward to collaborating with many local and international artists as we are opening up Velskov.
Forestscapes is an extension of your art practice – what did you draw inspiration from and why is each Forestscape special to you?
Forestscapes is inspired by forest walks. The flora and fauna are breathtaking, and I love the native forest landscapes with all the variations of shapes and textures. They are unspoiled, pure, deep, and uncompromised in their beauty.
Thank you for inviting me to this collaboration, it's super cool. I can't wait for people to collect native forest landscapes and place them around their homes. These magical little wonderlands make us return to the starting point and support restoring external and internal balance through natural wealth and human well-being.
To me, nature is by far the most accomplished artist on the planet. She sometimes needs a tiny, helpful hand to open people’s eyes to her amazing creations.
Mamakan in the Cross Back Dress in Takahē Blue and Multi-Way Wrap Top in Kiokio Red.
The pieces in our latest capsule are inspired by the colours of some of Aotearoa’s native flora and fauna. What are some of your favourite native plants?
That is almost like asking me which of my 3 children, Sofia, Samuel, and Coco I love the most. They are all wonderfully unique in their individual way.
Likewise, I love all our native plants, even the naughty cutty grasses that keep hurting me.
I still have much to discover and learn about native ecosystems and also native birds and insects. It's an ever-evolving love affair.
Finally, please tell us what you’re working on next!
I’m working on the Art of Foraging workshops for this spring and summer. These are a series of walks that invite participants to taste a native New Zealand rainforest. You can join the Art of Foraging workshops here. Each walk helps to conserve and cultivate our ancient forests.
The Mamakan x Esse Forestscapes art installation is now on display at Esse, Bloc Collective 20 Normanby Road, Mount Eden, Auckland 1024. Open daily from 10am - 4pm. The purchase of each artwork supports the conservation of native forests.
Portraits captured by Cindy Leong.