Rainbow City: A mural art project in Kathmandu and by Kathmandu

Features Issue 131 Sep, 2012

Everyone is talking about the Rainbow City, a mural art project at Krishna Galli, near Patan Dokha. A glance at this huge mural approximately 20 feet by 25 feet in dimension depicts a larger than life size elephant in the centre, in a posterised style with various tones of grey standing on waves of water brilliantly coloured in shades of blue and outlined in black. Together with it in the background is the colourful landscape of Kathmandu, its typical architecture, inspirations from traditional paubha art and many more elements close to Nepali culture in the setting of Patan Dokha. These are illustrated by a map. Its vicinity to the nearby bus stop is integrated through dialogue boxes of conversations at the bus stop.

This eye catching and colourful representation of mural art, which is essentially a painting done on a wall, comes from the Latin word murus meaning wall, is situated just a few blocks ahead of Bhatbhateni Super Market. Murals are unlike other paintings; they can best be termed as public art, created in a public space and does not have a selected spectatorship. It is open to all and is usually meant to support a cause. A good mural has elements that are understood by everyone and one can see that with the predominant figure of the elephant, an auspicious icon embedded in our culture standing for strength and intillegence. The composition very skilfully balances the huge space and leads the eye from one element to the other without an iota of confusion. Had there been no central figure, the entire composition would be a hotchpotch of images and ideas.

A workshop complementing and supporting this project was organized jointly by Quixote’s Cove, an art and literary event management company and Kathmandu University, Centre for Art & Design and supported by the American Embassy in Nepal. Pranab Singh from Quoixte’s Cove comments, “The concept was conceived 3-4 four years ago, and it took a while to communicate, find the budget and all the other formalities to finally materialize it with the help of James Burns.” Burns is an American artist, currently working with City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and who specializes in mural making and collaborating with communities to bring about a positive change in society.

An open call was made for volunteers from all walks of life by Quixote’s Cove to participate in the mural making process. With 35 participants mainly from art instituitions like Lalit kala Campus, Srijana College of Fine Art and KU Centre for Art & Design, and other artists from Pokhara, Chitwan and people from a non artistic background, the huge team worked on a regular basis. The initial conceptualization and preperations were done at KU’s Center for Art & Design premises at Mandikatar. The final concept was painted on pressed acrylic sheets which were later cut into squares and pasted on the prepared wall at Patan under mutual understanding between the organizers and the house owner, with a special type of gel glue made specifically for mural artists, not available here. Only the lower part and the finishing touches were done directly on the wall. Finally the entire mural was coated in a protective, transparent top coat.

Talking with the participants and sharing thier views was freelance artist Shraddha Shrestha. “Working on such a large scale art with so many participants was a new experience. Also how James incorporated everyone’s ideas into one work was worth noting.” Art is a force that brings together humanity is definitely true, an opinion shared by Priya Ghimire, who when asked where she was from replied “Nepal”. Taken aback by her answer I asked her if she was an artist, to which she replied “trying to be one”, and continued to share that this was a project different from any other where the instructors taught and left. Here everybody came together and created something wonderful. Murals are said to be community projects and this seemed true here as I joined the other partipants at the restaurant next door, Cafe Cheeno, which had provided space for artists to rest and do other work.

Kiran Rai, Prakash Ranjit, Rabin Maharjan, Saran Tandukar and Subhadra Maharjan were some of the participants. They shared that this was a collaborative work with everyone’s input, and since there were participants from other places besides Kathmandu, the complete work was therefore a beautiful collective of ideas. Yajju Mananhdar shared that the earlier works of City of Philadelphia’s mural projects compelled him to join and he learnt much about enlarging small drawings for murals. Suresh Maharjan, Rabindra K Shrestha and Rajen Rai shared that mural art is a form of art from the prehistoric age and has evolved ever since. “In Nepal however, we called only wall painting mural art, which is a much neglected form of art. The colors we have used in this project are also special which have 10 years warranty and then the top coat adds a protective layer.” Colour management was also done in a very easy fashion; every colour was coded and the codes were specified on the drawings to avoid any confusion and make the working process easier. Rabindra went on to share that he had a wonderful experience and learned this new style of painting on sheets and then pasting it on the wall. He however was saddened by the lack of material to speed up the process of any work. The participants shared that they learned that art has a universal language and can be made into a community project. Even the pattis that are so popular in Nepali culture can be painted with murals thus preserving the moment and the stories painted and unfolding various causes and the ctiy’s walls would definitely look better with such paintings than political slogans.