Entering the ground of the Sattya Media Arts Collective, I find myself in an enclave of peace. A group of people is sitting around a table in the sun, holding the weekly team meeting. Behind them, the colourful three-storey building looks like a stronghold of creative energy.
This impression reinforces itself while Lisa, the management intern, shows me around. There’s a small and cosy library furnished with cushions on the floor, right next to the new co-working space. Other projects of the collective are the community garden Hariyo Chowk and weekly documentary screenings. However, the action for which Sattya got the most attention is “Kolor Kathmandu”.
Kolor Kathmandu’s goal: Painting 75 murals across Kathmandu in a year, representing the country’s 75 districts. In short – to make Kathmandu more colourful.
Regain public spaces
Some of the artists participating felt like they were fighting against “hollow political slogans” and ubiquitous advertising to regain public spaces for the public itself. One of them is Aditya Aryal, aka SadhuX. The artist is also the creative head of Artlab, a group of young emerging artists.
“There was nothing until we began painting on the streets. The art scene was concentrated on exhibitions in galleries,” says Aditya.
While Kolor Kathmandu has successfully completed its goal, the project seems to have ignited local artists to transform public spaces into works of art that is reflect the creative history of the city, art that was previously confined in closed walls of galleries and rich curators.
“We want to break the structures of galleries that are often very sophisticated,” Romel Bhattarai, the managing director of Artlab. “A lot of artists in Nepal are waiting. We are creating. No matter how and where.”
Bringing art to the street makes the oeuvre accessible for everyone. The objective is to start public discourse on art that the issues a piece can communicate.
“We want to make people more curious,” Romel says. “Questioning the public cannot happen in the haven of galleries that always attract the same kind of people.”
Artlab’s current project, Prasad, addresses the problem of the youth searching their luck abroad. By drawing “Nepali heroes”, such as Laxmi Prasad Devkota, MaHa Jodi and Narayan Gopal, they want to inspire their generation to invest their individual potential in their home country.
“There is no style yet in Nepali street art,” Aditya says, speaking on the tread on works on the street. However, this is maybe the biggest trump of those being creative here. Nepali artists have the freedom to do something completely new, to feel again like children with pots of paint in front of a surface to fill.
Economic of art
While street art is on display free of charge, making it is not cost-free. Starting from the labour of the artist, the paint, paint brushes, and other tools for creating the piece, everthing has an economic cost.
Kolor Kathmandu was lucky to find funding from Prince Claus Foundation from Netherlands. Priti Sherchan, the artist coordinator of the project speaks of the ripple effects of the project for the people involved.
“When I began making art, it was more for this feeling of intangible satisfaction it gets you,” says Sherchan. “But later, I began to see also the economical benefit of it. Even on this small scale, we were providing jobs for the people, like those who produced our colour or the drivers who move art pieces”.
With an array of artists in its contacts now, Sattya now tries to bridge the gap between potential clients and artists. Through its agency Sattya Inc. the organization is trying to satisfy the growing demand of creative space design along with the needs of artists to sustain themselves through their work.
Meanwhile, the artists of Artlab go even further in demonstrating that art is not necessarily just pass-time, dependent on generous sponsors, but can have tangible links with the commercial world. What began as a work for purely ideological reward has become a somewhat lucrative business by now.
Artlab says that that they work they’ve done on the street have become like promotions for their work. The group has found innovative ways of keeping their business alive.
From the walls in the streets, Artlab’s designs have found space within homes, on t-shirts and on any space that welcomes art. The artists now solicit their work for businesses or homes that are willing to pay for creative art on their walls. In this fashion, the artists’ collective got paid for painting murals in the Places Bar and Restaurant in Thamel, where they also display pieces of their latest projects for sale.
Artlab’s Romel is now dreaming of an international street art festival within the next year that will bring together foreign and local artists.
When asked where this is leading, Romel replies with a smile of the truly enthused. “Of course, we have a vision. We want to see art everywhere.”