Maureen Drdak’s art practice was born out of curiosity, rigorous research, and a love for material and design. Although she has traveled extensively to Israel, Egypt, Tunisia, Italy, England, the Caribbean islands, and India, Nepal has been the focal point of her academic research, made possible in part through a Fulbright Fellowship in 2011. Drdak says, “Nepal has been a tremendous source of spiritual sustenance, wonder, enrichment, and connection…In the past fifteen years, the innumerable relationships I’ve developed have been an indescribable blessing.” On view in Burning Worlds, her wall-bound relief works are a combination of painting and the ancient art of repoussé, a unique metalworking technique she studied during her visits to Nepal.
Initially drawn to a photo of the Kali Gandacki river gorge in the Nepali Himalayas, Drdak visited the Kathmandu Valley for the first time in 2005. Upon her arrival, she was immediately and unexpectedly taken with the Newar repoussé that decorated the temples in the area. Dating back to the Bronze Age, the exact roots of the time-intensive repoussé technique is unknown; however, Patan, Nepal has become the contemporary hub of this endangered practice. To develop her repoussé practice, Drdak apprenticed in Patan with the grandsons of the historic Kuber Singh Shakya, a venerated family who’s lineage spans over four-hundred years along with social, religious and cultural responsibilities within the guthi social system of Nepal.
In Drdak’s body of work for Burning Worlds, devotion to her research is evidenced in the many delicately crafted repoussé elements integrated within her paintings. The title, Burning Worlds, conveys a trifecta of ideas that reference internal, external, and celestial “worlds”. Her large triptych, Cantos Helios, is Drdak’s homage to solar energy. Large repoussé gestures rip through the center of each panel representing the sun’s rays, both paradoxically harmful and life-sustaining. Altogether, the triptych embodies the diurnal arc of the sun including its rise, zenith, and descent.
In contrast, the Inner Perceiver works are sensitively painted. A fine line, bifurcating a dark plane and rendered in 23K gold, represents the burning light of consciousness upon the darkness of the Void. Undulating patterns on either side of the gold detail evoke the sagittal sutures of the human cranium, believed to be the gateway for the release of the Soul. These works draw upon shared understandings of both Western and Asian concepts of spirituality, string theory, and meditation.
Lastly, Ardens Mundi, Latin for “burning worlds”, is the cornerstone of the exhibition and Drdak’s oeuvre. These large tondo panels feature Drdak’s signature combination of materials - acrylic and copper repoussé - and manifest the culmination of ideas and concerns developed during her research in Nepal. Each of the three tondos on view represents a specific environmental phenomenon related to the impact of climate change, which has had a tremendous effect on the delicate Himalayan ecosystem. These works embody equal parts tribute to Nepali repoussé practice, and visual tools communicating the urgency of the destabilizing force of climate change.
Maureen Drdak is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She has exhibited her work extensively in numerous solo and group shows in the United States and abroad, and her works are included in public and private collections. Drdak is a 2011 Fulbright scholar and is currently the Advisor to the Board of the Fellowship of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Drdak lives and works in Pennsylvania while maintaining strong connections with her Nepali “brothers” and community members.
In Passages, Dr. Andrea Baldeck shares the photographic documentation of her many journeys to India. As a visitor in this vast and diverse subcontinent, her silver gelatin prints offer a peek into her immersive experiences.
As a child, Baldeck eagerly read Life magazine and practiced using her brownie camera while dreaming of adventures to places far and wide. Although she later pursued music and medicine, she never stopped her photo practice and was introduced to the darkroom while in college. After completing her residency as an internist and anesthesiologist, Baldeck was fortunate to begin traveling as a volunteer doctor through an early iteration of Doctors Without Borders. It was during this time of public service that she was finally able to combine her many passions and discover the intimate connections that can be forged with her subjects through the lens of the camera.
While photojournalism was an early source of inspiration for Baldeck, she has slowly developed a photo practice that embraces warmth, mystery, and imagination. She always asks before taking a photo of her human subjects and regularly receives information from her local guides to further understand the landscape, architecture, and culture. Aware of the perilous relationship between photography and colonialism, Baldeck hopes her images share a small slice of her unique experience as an outsider and offer her viewer a chance to recognize shared humanity and tacit connection.
Shooting a 35mm camera takes careful planning and consideration. Baldeck evaluates the light, exposure, framing, and composition on site. She never crops an image upon returning to the darkroom. This slow, analog process allows her time to dig deep into her experience and be present in the special qualities of the moment. Working in black and white silver gelatin prints, Baldeck favors their timeless quality and emotional impact over the romance and allure of color.
Baldeck has also released a number of books that contain written essays on her experiences in conjunction with her images. These writings are diaristic reflections rather than concrete descriptions. Her hope is to draw her viewers even deeper into the experience of a place they may never be able to go, bringing the same magic of adventure to others of any age.
Born in a small town near Rochester, New York, Baldeck studied music at Vassar and attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. Throughout the 1980s, Baldeck volunteered on medical trips, carrying her camera and stethoscope in the same bag. In the 1990s after 12 years of medical practice, Baldeck was finally able to fully turn her attention to photography. She has exhibited her work in both the fine arts gallery setting and within the context of archaeology and anthropology. Her writing and photos can be found in numerous books, articles, and public and private collections across the globe.
Dr. Baldeck has served as a trustee of the Moore College of Art and Design, Settlement Music School, and Vassar College. She currently sits on the boards of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, participating on the East Asian and South Asian Art committees, supporting acquisitions, conservation, and endowment.