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The butterfly artist

Sunday, July 31st, 2016


From the Nepali Press

GirishGiri in, 29 July

The Maitighar-Baneswor road was littered with placards and water bottles discarded by the supporters of CIAA Chief Lokman Singh Karki after a rally last Wednesday. None of the participants of the rally had the civic sense to dispose of the trash appropriately.

Milan Rai, a young artist who lives in a rented room in Baneswor, saw motorists and pedestrians trampling on the waste generated by the rally participants. He asked himself: “Are they sleepwalkers? Can they not see the trash on the road?”

In the wee hours of Thursday, Rai started collecting the trash. It was not just a cleaning campaign. He wanted to collect the refuse, create a pyre out of it at Maitighar and burn it to awaken the Kathmandu residents from their apathy. After dawn, the sweepers from Kathmandu Metropolitan City came and took away the pile of garbage that he had collected.

But the photos of him picking up the garbage went viral on social media, with activists and celebrities sharing them on their Facebook timelines. His act was seen by some people as being against CIAA Chief Karki, or in favour of Satyagrahi Govinda KC who has demanded Karki’s impeachment.

“I was neither supporting nor protesting anyone,” he says. “I just wanted to rekindle Kathmandu’s lost civic sense.”

Rai, a school dropout from Dharan in eastern Nepal, is still not well known in Nepal. But his creative work has already made its presence felt among a circle of artists around the world. His ‘white butterfly campaign‘ has spread beyond Nepal, and reached Europe and Africa.

After a recent terrorist attack in Brussels, the Brussels Stock Exchange building was decorated with his white butterflies to spread the message of peace.  White butterflies have been used in as many as 40 countries so far — mostly for peace, and sometimes to express political discontent.

Rai is a painter, but is now more popularly known as the white butterfly campaigner. Four years ago, after realising that his paintings were being confined to either exhibition halls or the drawing rooms of the affluent, he started installing white butterflies in public spaces, to spread a positive vibe.

After last year’s earthquake, Rai used his creativity to raise funds that he used to build toilets and a school in Sindhupalchok district. The international media gave him some coverage, and he was invited by Harvard University to deliver a lecture about his work only two months ago.

“A school dropout from Nepal delivered a lecture at Harvard,” he says. “Nothing is impossible; we just need a strong will.”

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