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 currently exploring “Seasons Unseen”, a fine art photography project magnifying the humble beauty of native New Zealand plants as well as growing global community through Mycelium Dinners.
Memories of a 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 Cathrine, but then your cousin was named that… And Mette was a nice and popular name!”. Funny how you casually get to be called something that stick to you for the rest of your life. Indeed, “Mette” was number 1 name for girls in 1971 and I was destined to be called either Mette Kristine, Mette O or Kristine. 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 lush 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. Her friends were the kind of parents who put their kids into the local Steiner school and baked their own sourdough bread.
My father, Niels Oustrup, preferred to mingle with the wealthy business and entrepreneurial crowd. He was - and still is - an amazing natural networker and member of every single business network and men’s club in town. Together, my parents threw wonderful parties, but the 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 became introverted and lonely, especially during those unhappy, nomadic years.
Finding Passion in the Arts
When I was 12 years old, we got to grow a few roots again in a little, yellow house close to the beach of Risskov.
Still an introvert, I took up drawing, painting, graphic design and gobbled up newspapers instead of doing school homework. I fell in love with photography and set up my own photographic dark chamber in my grandparents' basement.
Little did I know, that it would take an untraditional journey of 30 years to came back to my first love. The journey would take me from Brazil to Europe to Asia, back to Europe and then back to Asia and today, New Zealand.
A waddle through the fashion and luxury industry, the world of charity and social entrepreneurship, from trend forecasting to management consulting. And only after decades of detouring, I have come back to my childhood dream.
The Stylish Years
Often with 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 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 before moving to Hong Kong for the global lifestyle brand DIESEL in 1996. After hours, I found a compassionate outlet by 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 a doomed 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 our own trend consultancy for luxury brands. It was lots of fun and 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 og globetrotting, I found a new boyfriend and became mother to two wonderful girls, Sofia and Coco in Cannes.
Becoming as Social Entrepreneur
On the surface life was good, but something was missing under the beautiful Mediterranean sunshine of Cote d'Azur. Again, 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 with the ambitious mission of "Human Progress in Harmony with Nature". Through installations, videos, events and creative collaborations, we wanted to inspire deeper consideration and action towards sustainable living in a country obsessed with financial progress (ironically).
We curated events and design exhibitions at the National Museum of Singapore and the former Supreme Court - now National Gallery Singapore. Qi GLOBAL provided a platform to many of the early pioneers in the world of sustainability and social entrepreneurship. Thinkers such as Mac Macartney got his global break-trough in 2010 with “The Children’s Fire”.
However, Qi GLOBAL was better at promoting others than itself. Overall, it turned out to be a heartfelt investment 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. It was a dark, utterly miserable time. How could I shield Coco and Sofia from trans-generational grief, then just 2 and 4 years old?
During a post break-up trip to my family in Melbourne, Australia, I had an “out-of-body” experience, a spiritual and physical sensation of being one with the universe and all living things. We were out camping. The night was full of vivid dreams. When the morning came, I was no longer inside my body. Somehow the “ego” was floating about 30 cm above my head.
Even though I didn't rationally understand what was happening, the deep sense of joy and lightness was overwhelming. Nature was the silent 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 a personal achievement to stand in front of an audience with a broken heart).
With renewed hope, I began to explore paths to re-forest 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 epiphany of a Name
Back in 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 flavours 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. Yes, I was paying the rent, but I was a troubled soul. 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. One morning in 2014, I was walking my 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 the forest and the wind said: “Mamakan, this is your purpose.''
At the time, I mistook the message as thinking it was the project that I was working on. Later, I realised that projects come and go. Mamakan was much more than that. It was to be my name, essence, spirit, soul and purpose in life.
The Year that Changed it All
2015 became the 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, you can see it as 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 big business for good.
During the many months of recovery, I came back to art and took up studies of fine art and art history. 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 devotion 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 nature-inspired works of art. On the other hand we disrespect nature by our own ever increasing consumption.
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 urbanised environment. 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 ground-shaking 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, but my children began to suffer from the 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 children. Slowly, slowly our new life here is taking root. Together, we are growing a new community through 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.