Mamakan is a Danish-born Botanical Artist working with large-scale fine-art photography, public installations and interactive experiences involving visuals, sound, touch, taste and scent. Mamakan previously introduced food and foraging into well-known museums in Singapore. A new habitant to Auckland, New Zealand, she is now exploring "SEASONS UNSEEN" magnifying the humble beauty of native New Zealand plants.
The True Story
Memories of a lost Danish Childhood
My name is Mamakan. “Mama" stands for Mother Nature. "Makan" means to eat. This is my story.
I was born as "Mette Kristine" in Aarhus, Denmark in 1971. When I asked my parents why this name, the answer was “well, we wanted to call you Kathrine, but then your cousin was named that… And Mette was a nice and popular name!”. Funny how you get to be called something that most people stick to for the rest of their life. Indeed, “Mette” was number 1 name for girls in 1971 and I was destined to be called either “Mette Kristine” or “Mette O”. Until destiny intervened one day in Singapore. More about that later…
My first memories are of my mother, Sys Clausen, practicing ceramic art in our garden full of fruit trees and bushes of hazelnut. I remember my mom’s friends coming to our house, sometimes to chat, sometimes to paint, sometimes to party, creating a buzzing atmosphere of arts and crafts. These friends were the kind of parents who put their kids into the local Waldorf Steiner school, wore purple pants and baked their own sourdough bread.
My father, Niels Oustrup, preferred to mingle with the business and entrepreneurial crowd. He was - and still is - a natural networker and member of every single business network and men’s club in town. Their marriage did not last. When I was 9 years old, my mom asked me to come to our living room, sat me down on the red sofa and told me that they were getting divorced. I don’t remember much, apart from tears. Silent tears, lots of them. My childhood innocence was over and it was time to grow up.
My father kept our beloved family home, and with my little brother in tow, my mom went on a wander. I think that we moved 7 or 8 times in 3 years and lived on very little money. Bullied in school, I was introverted and lonely, especially during those poor, nomadic years.
Finding My Passion
When I was 12 years old, we finally got to grow a few roots again in a small, yellow house close to the beach of Risskov.
Still introverted, I took up drawing, painting, graphic design and gobbled up newspapers and politics instead of doing the normal school homework. I fell in love with old style black and white photography and set up a photographic dark chamber at my grandparents' house. I dreamt of becoming someone who would explore and influence the state of the world through art.
Little did I know, that it would take an untraditional journey of 30 years to make this dream come true. The journey would take me from Brazil to Europe to Asia, back to Europe and then back to Asia and today, New Zealand.
I would work my way through the fashion and luxury industry, the world of charity and social entrepreneurship, from trend forecasting to management consulting. And only after three decades of detouring, I have come back to my childhood dream.
Years of Wanderings
In education, the challenge is to choose the heart and the head. While my heart was in the arts, my head said “go for something that will provide a living and financial independence”. Instead of following my mother's creative, but financially poor path, I went with the paternal footsteps of my family and pursued a career in the business world. It was a foolhardy decision driven by fear, rather than love.
I graduated in International Business & Marketing while working at a boyfriend's small fashion start-up and then moved to Hong Kong for the global lifestyle brand DIESEL in 1996. After hours, I found an outlet in hosting fundraising events for the Chinese children's charity Sunbeam. Then I met an Italian designer and later, the entrepreneurs behind a 32 million euros fashion-technology start-up in Nice, France. It all sounded very exciting. And short-lived.
In 2001, after the doomed Italian romance and bankruptcy of the fashion-technology start-up, I became an accidental entrepreneur and co-founder of the French/Chinese trend agency Style-Vision with three other female co-founders. Working out of my apartment in Nice, we worked hard to set up a trend consultancy for luxury brands. It worked.
Before co-creation and crowdsourcing became buzzwords, we deciphered future mega trends together with clients and competitors. We invented new methodologies to create meaningful experiences for consumers. It all got global brands - and the press - listening. We soon moved into a proper office with some money in the bank. I travelled the world and was appointed “Goodwill Ambassador of Copenhagen”. After a few years, I found a new boyfriend and became mother to two wonderful girls, Sofia and Coco.
Moving Back to Asia
Life was good on the surface, but something was missing under the beautiful Mediterranean sunshine of Cote d'Azur. I felt miserable and lonely. My relationship was on the rocks. I was frustrated with my work. I missed the buzz of Asia.
In 2009, my family and I uprooted from Cannes and arrived in Singapore. We decided to establish a social enterprise called Qi GLOBAL (video) with the ambitious mission of "Human Progress in Harmony with Nature". Through installations, videos, events and creative collaborations, we tried to inspire deeper consideration and action towards sustainable living in a country obsessed with financial progress (ironically).
Qi GLOBAL gave a platform to many of the early pioneers in the world of sustainability and social entrepreneurship. Thinkers such as Mac Macartney got his global breaktrough after I invited him to speak his truth in 2010 with “The Children’s Fire”. Bless him, such a humble and warm soul. We curated events and design exhibitions at the National Museum of Singapore and the former Supreme Court - now National Gallery Singapore.
The entreprise was better at promoting others than itself. It was too early and in a wrong place. Overall, Qi Global turned out to be a heartfelt invesment running on pure idealism. A lot of good intentions and interesting people, but I was perhaps not yet ready to fully embrace the mission - emotionally or spiritually.
Nature as a Healer
In November 2010, my private relationship finally imploded with a huge traumatic event that shattered my sense of trust and love. Like my own parents, I was now officially a failure in romantic relationships. I had fallen for the wrong man. It was a dark, utterly miserable time. How could I shield Coco and Sofia from further grief, then just 2 and 4 years old?
During a post break-up trip to my family living in Melbourne, Australia, I had an “out-of-body” experience, a spiritual and physical sensation of being one with the universe. I was out camping in a tent with Sofia and Coco. The night was full of vivid dreams. When the morning came, I was no longer inside my body. Somehow the “I” was floating about 30 cm above my head for most of that morning. I made breakfast, cleaned up and want for a nature walk. The sense of joy and lightness was overwhelming, even though I didn't quite understand it at that time. Nature was the healer of my broken ego and heart. Nature lifted me spirits and gave me hope. I was able to face the future. I even gave a TEDx talk. (probably one of the worst talks ever, but it was still an achiement to stand in front of an audience).
With this renewed hope, I began to explore new paths to re-forest and why deforestation was so rampant in South East Asia. This exploration led me to the heart of the virgin rainforest of Borneo looking for foraged food for “Rainforest Cuisine”. I vividly remember sitting in a boat on a river watching the forest and the sunset thinking: This is why I’m alive!
The ephiphany of Single Motherhood
However back in expensive Singapore, as a single mom, I had to let go of my true calling for a while. To pay the rent, I set up a change management company called Business Innovation Culture. Our first client was the world’s biggest food company. Another client was one of the biggest producers of flavors for the food industry. Though these engagements, I discovered the food industry from the inside.
Working with leadership teams, I saw motivations and aspirations up close. I witnessed supply chains, research & development centres, massive marketing campaigns and immense political outreach. The conflicts, the ignorance and most of all, the deceit of treating nature with respect. It was a misfit from the start. Yes, I was paying the rent, but I was miserable at work. Eventually it had to come to an end. And so it did.
The name “Mamakan” came into my life via a small volunteer project to help other single mothers through home-cooked meals. One morning in 2014, I was walking the girls to school and took the long road back home. Some people describe having an epiphany as the heaven opens and a loud voice. Others as a silent whisper inside themselves. My epiphany was coming from above and the voice said: “You are Mamakan. This is what your purpose is.'' At the time, I mistook the message as thinking it was the project was working on. Later, I realized that projects come and go. Mamakan was much more than that. It was my name, essence, my spirit, my soul and my purpose in life.
The Year that Changed it All
2015 became the crazy pivotal year. First I got married to my true love, Quinten Laureijs. Then we became parents to an adorable baby boy, named Samuel. Then I nearly died from birth complications. When you are very sick it can be a message to slow down and rethink your life. In that hospital bed in Singapore, with my mother and newborn baby next to me, I decided to leave the world of business and entrepreneurship for good.
During the many months of recovery, I finally came back to art. I took up studies of fine art and art history at the school next door to our house, LASALLE College of the Arts. When Singapore got choked in another round of toxic haze from forest fires, it became the spark that ignited a series of charcoal drawings and talks. Early and raw ideas without sophistication or reach, a stumbling beginning that would lead to more solid works later on.
Discovering Purpose with Botanical Art
My real contribution to the world turned out to be in botanical art and the magical marriage of art, food, and nature. Most people treat food as a necessity, hence our craving for fast foods. At the same time, we are obsessed with watching top chefs and spend fortunes in fine dining restaurants. Our relationship with food represents our relationship with nature. On one hand we admire nature and make wonderful works of art inspired by her. On the other hand we disrespect nature by our own ever increasing cumsumption.
In my previous life, I was probably the embodiment of the restless cosmopolite, with a horizontal network that traversed the entire globe. It came to a point where I found myself stretched too thin, and I knew then that what I had to do was to ground down and discover my roots. How can we grow roots, if we never eat from the soil?
By sensing the plants that are rooted in the places we live, we can hope—even if it is only temporary—to internalise their sense of gravity and connectedness.
The First Mamakan Exhibitions
I began to search for my own roots by foraging for edible plants. In 2015, we lived in the heart of Singapore and every day I would be walking around, plucking, tasting. My experience of urban foraging grew into an exhibition proposal and the Mamakan Art Collective.
We named the first show “GastroGeography" (Singapore Biennale 2016) and it questioned the status of belonging and rootedness in an urbanized environment. It was a huge success! The next show, “Treasure Island, 2017” explored edible plants on a larger scale, inspired by a letter written by a pioneering Danish naturalist from the early colonial days of South and Southeast Asia.
Commissioned by OH! Open House at Emerald Hill 2018 "Daughter of the Soil" featured the story of Agnes Joaquim, the first woman in the world to crossbreed two orchid species. I was inspired by my good friend Linda Locke, the great-grand niece of Agnes Joaquim and her groundshaking passion for uncovering the truth about her ancestor. Daughter of the Soil was also used to launch “Women in Art”, the first network for female art professionals in Singapore.
Singapore was a fun, fast and furious place to live. For a while. Little by little our children began to suffer from reality of confirming to a consumerist, competitive lifestyle and an exam obsessed education system. When my husband’s job was transferred to New Zealand, it was a small breath of relief for the sake of our family.
A New Family Life in New Zealand
In October 2018, we moved to a forest outside Auckland, New Zealand searching for a better environment for our three children. Slowly, slowly our new life is taking root based on trust and love.
Thank you for reading my story and don't stay a stranger. I’d be more than happy to hear from you on email@example.com.