21-27 July 2017 #868

Walls as art, not barriers

"Street murals democratise art, bringing it to the masses."
Shaleen Shah

Shaleen Shah
MORE MURALS: Street artists Kiran Maharjan (top) and Sanjay Dongol at work on the three-storey Baber Mahal Revisited mural this week.

Street artists Sanjay Dongol and Kiran Maharjan were working on a mural on a wall opposite Phora Darbar last week, braving the dust and pollution, when they were approached by a man who asked them what they were up to.

Dongol and Maharjan get it all the time: people stopping on the sidewalk to watch them work, or striking up a conversation. In the past six years the two have painted just about every available wall in town.

“It’s one of the quirks about working as street artists,” said Maharjan, “We get approached by clients who see our art on the streets.

The man who stopped his car at Phora Darbar was none other than Gautam Rana of Baber Mahal Revisited. He asked the two what they were doing afterwards, then promptly invited them over to his place. One morning this week Rana (known to friends as ‘Jitu’) watched as the two perched on scaffolding, painting a three-storey mural at Baber Mahal Revisited.

“Street murals democratise art, bringing it to the masses. I wanted to recognise the incredible creativity shown by these young artists,” says Rana, who got Asian Paints to pitch in with the raw material.

Maharjan, who has been working as a street artist for six years, had approached art galleries in Thamel to display his work, only to get turned down. Then he discovered street art. “One day, I just realised that you don’t need galleries and permission to show your work on the streets,” he says.

Dongol pipes in: “And the best part is that it’s perfectly legal in Nepal.”

Kathmandu has seen an explosion of street murals, from the cubist panda near Bagmati Bridge to over 20 vibrant murals along Kupondole — including a Buddha wearing headphones and a girl in traditional Nepali attire, holding a can of spray paint and writing ‘Nayabhandaima daraunupardaina’ ('Don’t be scared of what is new').

One mural on Kantipath, by Shraddha Shrestha, depicts a couple painted twice, weeping on one side but holding hands and carrying a pick axe and shovel on the other. Titled Hijo, Aja it symbolises the resurrection of Kathmandu from the rubble of the 2015 earthquakes. Hatemalo commemorated the nine temples that collapsed during the quake and Kolor Kathmandu painted 75 murals across the city, each representing one of Nepal's 75 districts.

Kiran and Sanjay are part of Art Lab, which is responsible for much of this street art. Its recent project, Prasad, held art workshops in six cities. “We wanted to give every emerging artist a voice, so they can express themselves and enrich the streets,” says Maharjan.

Dongol remembers that after the 2015 earthquake many people in Kathmandu were afraid that walls would collapse. “We wanted to change this, make walls a comforting symbol, a canvas for Nepal’s vibrant culture,” he adds.

Art Lab has been painting over ugly political slogans on walls, but it is not without controversy. When France-based Outsiders Krew were invited by a local sadhu to paint the entrance to the Purohit Ghat temple they were accused of defacing a heritage site. After some debate the mural was allowed to stay.

“There is a fine line between what is comfortable for you and when it becomes a discomfort for others,” Maharjan reminds us.

Read also:

Murals of hope, Stéphane Huët

Colourful capital, Sangam Shilpakar

ARTAVAGANGA, Smriti Basnet