ArtLab chooses to idolize into portraits local icons who have made immense contributions to society and to remind people of these heroes who have stood out in trying situations.
Passing the Balaju-Chakrapath Ringroad on my way to work, I see huge paintings signed ‘Prasad’ standing out amidst the clutter on the walls of the overhead bridge at Gongabu bus park. These illustrations of iconic Nepali personalities have become a sight for eyes that have been accustomed to seeing ugly political posters pasted on every free space in Kathmandu. Murals have been a popular form of art since ancient times when resting places called “pattis,” “bahas and bahis” were painted to add to their aesthetics. Mithila art still adorns the walls and courtyards of houses in the villages of Janakpur district in south-eastern Nepal. With the passage of time and urbanization, though, this has steadily decreased. The closest we’ve come to seeing colourfully painted walls are the occasional community projects by school children.
However, of late, murals have been appearing on the walls of Kupondole, Lainchaur, Ratna Park, Gairidhara, etc instigated by art organizations such as Artudio and Sattya Media. Now, committed on popularizing street art, is ArtLab, a design studio initiated by a group of young artists. Working on their first major project, ‘Prasad,’ since April are Anish Bajracharya ‘2012’, Shraddha Shrestha ‘Deadline’, Kiran Maharjan ‘H11235’, Sneha Shrestha ‘Imagine’, Aditya Aryal ‘Sadhu-X’ and Shreejan Shrestha ‘SZN.’
Having noticed that most exhibitions and galleries are visited by an unchanging crowd of artists and enthusiasts, the team decided that art needed to move out of the galleries and be viewed by the everyman in a language understood by the common people. “Nepalis tend to complain about every situation,” says Sadhu-X “but we want to remind people of the heroes who have stood out with their contributions in adverse situations.” They, thus, chose to pay tribute to local icons, people from diverse fields who have managed to make a difference in society so that the viewers could be inspired by their deeds. Among these are the legendary singer Narayan Gopal, acclaimed poet “Maha Kavi” Laxmi Prasad Devkota, cultural ambassador Satya Mohan Joshi, CNN Hero 2012 Pushpa Basnet, sportsperson Sangina Baidya, groundbreaking mountaineer Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, handicapped writer and Madan Puraskar winner Jhamak Kumari Ghimire, social activist Binod Shahi and the ever popular comedian duo, Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya. Also included in the highly regarded company is Laxman Khadka, known to many as the Human Banner, a familiar sight on the streets of the capital, often seen cleaning roads and giving speeches clad in his trademark white kurta covered with political, social and religious slogans.
The portraits, done in a semi-realistic manner, painted in geometric shapes and stenciled with bright spray paint, immediately manage to create an impact. They tease the mind of the viewer as they make one think before identifying the characters. The murals were painted in the studio and later pasted at the site. They were then treated to withstand unfavourable weather conditions. But, since these paintings are not meant to last, new ones come up. ArtLab made it a point to position these murals on the upper parts of the walls, beyond the reach of political slogans. Despite this, a few paintings have already been blighted by slogans, a stark reminder that art is yet to be taken seriously by the general populace.
I attended the official opening exhibition of ‘Prasad’ at Tings Tea Lounge & Hotel, Lazimpat where the artists had the smaller versions of the portraits, along with other installations, on display. I was in awe at the diversity of the mediums used and the alternative methods in which their art had been presented. This went way beyond just a painting on a canvas. The group had reached beyond the box, used various methods, dabbled in different styles and created a fusion of trends old and new. They mediums ranged from creating art pieces on city maps and old dining mats to etchings on LCD laptop screens and audio cassette reels. Stencils had been cut out of tracing paper and then sandwiched between pieces of glass to get a frosted look. Portraits were created with colourful threads. Empty spray paint cans had even been reused as installations with images painted on them. The styles explored went from stippling to stencil spray paintings, bold black line art to calligraphy, both in English and in Newari ‘Ranjana’ script. The retro style art that used motifs and pop art frames were eyecatching and the watercolour with a metallic golden wash in the background gave the paintings a dreamlike feel. Needless to say, it took me a long time to study the 63 painting and installations and assimilate the wonderful works of art.
The fact that ArtLab has chosen to depict the images of well-known icons for ‘Prasad’ makes the project entirely relatable - to the youth of today as well as the older generation. The passion and dedication behind the exhibits are inspiring and I can’t help but praise the committed team for elevating Nepali art to a higher level.
The exhibition was inaugurated on the 30th of September 2013 and will stay on for a month. Initiated by ArtLab, this event is supported by Full Circle with the Annapurna Post as the official partner.