Street Artist Shraddha Shrestha on Kathmandu’s Changing Landscape — CAF

As an international street art exhibition opens in London, we speak to one of the artists about the rise of street art in Nepal and how it led to her first showcase abroad.

Over the past few years, the streets of Kathmandu have been replacing political slogans for bold artworks according to Shraddha Shrestha, one of the Nepalese capital’s young street artist. Fed up of elitist galleries and a lack of opportunities to show their work, the younger generation have taken to sharing their creative talent on buildings around the city.

For Shraddha Shrestha, an illustrator and designer, her work on the streets has gotten her noticed by commercial companies who have asked her to work on their advertising campaigns after observing the impact her work has with the general public.

It’s also led her to being selected by London-based NGO International Alert for their #ART4PEACE exhibition which takes place throughout September as part of their Talking Peace Festival. The exhibition has collated work from street artists around the world from Egypt to Poland to Syria, France, Italy, Chile and the UK. Each artist has donated a piece to the exhibition which portrays their perspective on ‘peace’. Shrestha heard about the exhibition through a friend who had been contacted to take part and submitted her work to the curators for consideration.

Shraddha Shrestha’s ART4PEACE submission

“My piece is actually linked to the recent disaster that we had to go through with the earthquake,” Shrestha told CAF Magazine, “In that particular day, apart from all the destruction, apart from all the horrible experience, another experience was that all the people were united. That day we had this mutual understanding, we had this love, we had this respect for each other that I think brought the whole nation together and we weren’t divided at all.”

The image, titled ‘Ani Hami Ek Bhayau’ (And We Were One) depicts a worker with multiple arms using tools to rummage through the rubble with one arm shining a torch above it all. Below him, hands, with different, vibrantly-coloured nails group together in a united gesture.

Many-armed characters are a recurring theme in Shrestha’s work. “I take inspiration from classical animation, I make my own characters. I also get my inspiration from mythological characters like Hindu icons,” she explains. She merges the ideas of Hindu deities with multiple limbs with comic book notions of depicting extra-terrestrial life as having multiple limbs and eyes to create her own other-worldly creatures. Shrestha, who tags herself as ‘DEADLINE’, first discovered street art through books, the internet and television while she was studying Graphic Communication at Kathmandu University, which she graduated from in 2011. A number of tourists to the city had also created small pieces which inspired her to create her own street art in her hometown.

Street art by Shraddha Shrestha

Surprisingly, the art has been welcomed by both the public and the authorities. Whilst many urban artists have had to fight to prevent street art being taken down by local governments, in Nepal they have been embraced. They paint in broad daylight and although Shrestha has said that she has been stopped by the police on occasion, they have simple asked a few questions about what she is doing before allowing her to carry on. Interestingly, she explain that while covering up the political slogans that have dominated the streets until recently is allowed, painting on clean walls can meet opposition from the metropolitan street cleaners.

Even as recently as four years ago, Kathmandu was largely baron of street art but it’s sudden rise in popularity has not only opened up art to everyday people but also helped to change perceptions of art as a career. “People don’t really respect our job much. People don’t want to pay much for your work. However, this is kind of changing,” says Shrestha “Before, big companies tried to exchange promoting you for doing work for them. However, right now they have understood that we’re not working just for fun, or just for art, in that way it has gained a respect and understanding amongst the general public.”

While there can be a misconception that street art is done just for fun or to simply ‘decorate’ the streets, Shrestha believes that there are many different reasons for its sudden popularity, “We have limitations in a gallery. However, there’s no limitations on the street. It can be huge and it’s open to the public. It’s absolutely free. In the gallery we have to pay the gallery, artists have to be approached by the gallery first and we have to work with the curator, things like that. In the street we can present ourselves how we want to.” For the citizens of Kathmandu, the advantage comes in having aggressive propaganda replaced with colourful and vibrant murals.

Now, for the first time, Shrestha’s street work will be expanding beyond the walls of Kathmandu. Aptly, her invitation to exhibit in London feels like a peace offering in its own way, uniting talented artists that may have otherwise been overlooked together for a unique showcase. Shrestha’s hope is that, while the exhibition aims to raise awareness and funds for the advocacy of peace, that it will also raise awareness and understanding of art in other cultures.

“Nepal is this small country and, after the recent earthquake, we have been in the media only for this disaster. I think with this exhibition people will know we have contemporary art, we have modern art, we have street art going on in Kathmandu as well. We are trying to let the international art scene know that we have artists who want to participate and are participating and want to contribute to the art scene. People think that Nepal is just about mountains and Bhutan but there is more than that.”

International Alert’s ‘#ART4PEACE: Peace From The Street Up!’ exhibition takes place between 4th and 20th September 2015 at Shop 12, Dray Walk, The Old Truman Brewery, London, E1 6QL. On 21st September 2015, to coincide with UN International Day of Peace, an online preview auction will allow urban art lovers worldwide to place bids on the works in the exhibition ahead of the live auction on 2nd October with proceeds going to International Alert.

Words: Olivia Pinnock

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