Rainbow City

I feel sad for my neighbor’s dog. He’s been shut in their kausi because of all the construction..road expansion. He is a small dog and can barely look out of the terrace walls, even when he stretches up on his hind legs. I was up on our terrace this afternoon and I could see him struggling to bark at me. I thought it was funny for a bit but then felt sad that he was all alone up there…and they leave him there all day and night! I mean, he’s a tiny indoor kind of dog but they leave him out in the rain. At least, they’ve made this small house for him now. When he’s on the terrace, he’s not tied up to a leash. Usually when he’s not on the roof, they tie him up to a tree in their garden but well, they had to uproot the tree coz of the road expansion thing. I am wondering what they’ll do now.

I admit i’ve been kind of lazy in updating my blog, but there’s was too much going on too and then I got sick.

I took part in the mural workshop with James Burns. It was organized by Quixote’s Cove and KUart and I had a lot of fun working with so many artists and students. I made some new friends too. Mostly, I’m glad that I learnt how to make a mural…at least the process, because it’s totally different that I had imagined it to be. Well, it’s not a thing to do on your own..you need a team, a good team and it can be a whole lot of fun.

I wrote an article about the mural, which came out in The Week today…Although I did participate, I didn’t write it in first person…here’s the article…and I will add more pictures later.

‘Rainbow City: the mural’

“It’s a dream come true to be here,” James Burns had exclaimed at his first presentation on Sunday, August 5 at LAH Lasanaa in Martin Chautari. Despite an ongoing transport strike, the talk was on schedule and a significant crowd had gathered to hear James on the topic ‘Mural as Arts for a Community’.

James had arrived in Kathmandu a day earlier from Philadelphia, USA where he works as a Staff Artist for the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. James, with an experience of over a decade, was in the city for a nine-day program during which he made presentations on mural arts and conducted a workshop with participants from Chitwan, Pokhara and Kathmandu. The result of which is ‘Rainbow City’ – a 20 feet tall by 25 feet long mural, now up at Patan Dhoka.

Rainbow City is a dream come true for all those who were involved in creating it, but more so, for James and the organizers, Suvani Singh and Pranab Man Singh of Quixote’s Cove (QC).

Photo: Shikhar Bhattarai

How it started

“The possibility of doing something together with James in Kathmandu came up three years back,” shared Suvani. In August 2009, QC had put together an exhibition of works by artist Binod Shrestha. Binod and James were classmates in graduate school and that’s how QC got in touch with James.

After three years of correspondence over emails, QC finally received the support to bring James to Kathmandu through the US Embassy’s new Department of State initiative called ‘Arts Envoy’. “Arts Envoy combines our previous Cultural Envoy, Performing Arts Initiative and Visual Arts Initiative into a single program,” explained Cain Harrelson, Cultural Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Kathmandu.

The Kathmandu University Center for Art & Design (KUart) stepped in as partners by providing space for the workshop on its premises in Mandikhatar. All interested participants, with or without a background in art, were welcome to apply. The workshop kicked off on Tuesday morning, August 8 with a total of 35 participants.

Putting together the design

“Mural arts for me is about working with the community and bringing in their thoughts,” James expressed during his talk at Martin Chautari. Community members and stakeholders are included in every process of the mural from designing to painting. The muralist normally spends months interacting with community members before actual painting begins. Workshops for instance on poetry writing, storytelling and discussions are organized to help design the mural.

The design process for ‘Rainbow City’ was cut short for obvious reasons. With only a week to design, draw, paint and put up a mural of this size, the focus of the workshop was more on learning the technique of mural making. Nonetheless, each participant was able to contribute to the design.

James came with the idea of an elephant from Philadelphia but the rest of the composition was open to ideas. “To me, the elephant stands for strength and agility,” said James about the mural’s main element. The elephant stayed and all the elements around it were put together from sketches submitted by the participants, keeping on mind the main objective of the mural to convey a message of positivity and hope. The picture cherishes and celebrates the Kathmandu Valley.
The design was also approved by Rita Thapa, the owner of the building, who kindly allowed QC to use the side wall for ‘Rainbow City’.

Photo: Saran Tandukar

The drawing and painting process

“The technique of mural making that we learnt during the workshop was something I had not expected,” shared Priya Ghimire. Like most of her fellow participants, she was expecting to paint directly on the wall of the building. “Instead we were painting on this fiber like material and then pasting it up on wall,” she explained.

The material which James brought with him from the US is called ‘nonwoven pressed acrylic’. It feels like textile but is more firm, like paper. All the drawing and painting were done on these sheets, which were cut into five by five feet squares. The final mural consists of 15 painted squares and only the lower part of mural was painted directly on the wall.

Before drawing and painting could begin, the design was digitally separated into patches of colors and color codes were made for each element. For example, the elephant consisted of five colors from white to dark-purplish gray and these were named 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Corresponding to these numbers were color coded areas in the drawings. In essence, the process is painting by numbers.

“Through the color coding technique, we can involve our communities in mural making and that was an important thing I learnt in this workshop,” expressed Suresh Maharjan. “The process allows anyone to come and paint. They don’t have to be artists.”

As part of the workshop, Saturday, August 25 was made open to members of the community to come and help paint the mural. “We have several ‘Paint Days’ and it’s a great way to bring people together,” informed James. “A lot of the painting is done by community members and the artists involved mostly do the final touch ups.”

After the mural is glued on site, a final clear gel is painted on top to keep it safe from rain and sun.

Photo: Shikhar Bhattarai

The potentials of mural art

The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program began as a part of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network in 1984. Until now, the program has produced over 3,000 murals and annually serves 1,500 youth throughout the city. Philadelphia is a city of murals.

If channelized and managed well, mural arts too could add some liveliness to our Kathmandu’s cityscape, which is filled with political-slogans, movie posters and advertisements. For the Nepali arts community which struggles to engage the public, mural arts is probably the best way to go. There is no age limit and one doesn’t require a painting or arts background.

In addition, mural arts can also explore socio-political themes. James worked with youths recovering in rehabs to create the mural ‘Personal Renaissance’ in North Philadelphia. Similarly, ‘Finding the Light Within’, another mural by him, is about youth suicide.

“Apart from involving the community, I feel that a mural can hold history through narratives and images from our daily lives,” opined Suresh and further explained, “In ‘Rainbow City’ we have old temples and houses, alongside modern buildings. The mural reflects both the current urbanization as well as our history.”

“For the amount of time we had, I think we made a big achievement but one mural is not enough,” opined Priya. Dhoj Gurung, one of three participants from Chitwan, also added, “This has been a memorable experience and I hope we can make more murals in the future.”

Well, there’s a good news. QC has already received five potential commissions for murals in Kathmandu. “We like to make whatever projects we do, sustainable,” stated Suvani. “We are going to take this project forward, professionally and establish something like the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program so that artists can also make a living through it.”

For now, one is already up and we hope there’s many more to come.


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