28 June-4 July 2013 #662

The butterfly effect

Milan Rai’s butterflies are spreading peace and positive vibes throughout the world
Sahina Shrestha

FLIGHT TIME: White butterflies on the steps of Maju Deval temple in Basantapur Darbar Square.
When artist Milan Rai installed his first set of white butterflies on the remains of a once magnificent tree at Naxal in November last year, little did he know his creations would spread their wings across 18 countries. Today protestors at Taksim Square in Turkey are using Rai’s art to express solidarity just like demonstrators at Baluwatar did a few months ago. In France the butterflies were used to console a mother of a fatally ill two-year-old and in Scotland to send messages to loved ones. Extremely popular both at home and abroad, the white butterflies are headed to New York soon.

The 28-year-old was first struck by the transformative powers of butterflies while he was working on a project called Katha Bagaichako. “One fluttered and settled on my paint brush and I was transported to a more magical place filled with hope and positivity,” explains Rai. “If a tiny creature could so easily transform my state of mind with a flutter of its wings, I wondered what swarms of butterflies descending on dirty, dusty Kathmandu, could do to the city?”

Students show support for the white butterfly movement at Occupy Baluwatar.

He started out by making butterfly outlines on white paper recycled from printing presses around the Valley, cutting them out, and going around the city planting his creations on trees, lamp posts, old dilapidated houses and walls. Suddenly residents of Kathmandu were treated to the sight of butterflies all around them. When he revisited some of the spots and noticed that the butterflies had vanished, instead of feeling angry, he made more.

Initially, the butterfly man carried out his project on a shoe-string budget from his own pocket buying stacks of A4 paper when he could find none in the press. But soon the money ran out and he was forced to take a break. With no apparent source of funding, Rai had almost given up on his dream when an anonymous donor from California sent him money. “I still have no idea who sent me the money, but I would like to thank the person for helping my butterflies cross borders,” he says.

A fallen tree trunk near Maiti Ghar where Rai had earlier installed butterflies.

Rai first broke out into Kathmandu’s art scene with his exhibition in 2007. A series of live painting sessions in collaboration with various artists soon followed. But the young artist’s defining moment came in 2012 when his exhibition called Ekphrasis - where he attempted to blur the lines between art, theatre, and fashion - was well received by the art fraternity.

Milan Rai pins butterflies on tyres found at Ring Road during a banda in June.

Recently, Rai’s butterflies have found a home on trees along the Ring Road that the government is planning to chop down as a part of its road extension project. “It saddened me that these trees were being cut for the sake of development. So I decided to lend my butterflies as a show of support.” he says. “We are not anti-development. We just want to show the state that there are better ways of doing things.”


Video of Milan Rai talking about White butterflies

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