Feature

The Man behind the Murals : Laxman Shrestha

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Mr. Laxman Shrestha is an Accountant turned artist. He followed what his heart wanted, and to do so, he switched careers. This however was not taken very well by his family as they opposed his decision. He had to leave his family behind to pursue this dream of his, regardless of it being a minefield of hardship. It’s not that he’s up there, he still has issues that are hampering his progress. But he likes to take things in a more positive manner. This outlook of his fuels him to tirelessly work towards his goals. He has five more members in his group that help him with his dreams as they share it too. Raju Ghlan Tamang, Puskar Chamling Rai, Yambang Gahahood, and Bidesh Chamling Rai, all study BFA (Bachelors in Fine Arts) at the Lalit Kala Campus of Fine Arts, where Mr. Shrestha was a guest lecture. Not to forget the writer Shiva Kumar Sharma who has been a part of the team in their work. After being inspired by Shrestha’s words and his perspective on life, the 5 youngster joined him in his quest. And we must say that we too are inspired by him.

 

HOW DID YOUR INTEREST IN MURALS START?
I had an interest in art since I was a child, but I never thought of it as a career. My Interest reignited when one of my friend showed me a picture posted in a national daily. After seeing that photo, I really wanted to draw it. This was in 2010 between the periods of June – July. And then my love for art was put on hold when I pursued the career of an accountant.

HOW AND WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO SWITCH CAREERS?
It took me 18 months to decide what I wanted to do with my life. Finally, in 2012, March 5, I decided that I would do what I love and just give up everything else. While I was in Nepalgunj during those 18 months, I spent time making some street art on the side to explore and satisfy my artistic side. During my time there, I wanted my art to appeal to the public. and in that process, I came up with the title “Sansad vs. Janta” (Members of the Parliament vs. Public) for my first art work. At that time I didn’t know about techniques or the basics, it was just one of my expressions put out in front of the public. This gave me a bit of popularity in Nepalgunj. It was then that I realized this is something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life.

WAS YOUR FAMILY OKAY WITH YOUR DECISION?
I went through a lot of difficult times as my family did not support my decision at all. So I had to leave them all unfortunately.

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WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THAT?
After parting ways with them, I came to Kathmandu and lived with one of my friend for 3 months. Although he was very supportive, he could not afford to keep me any longer, so I had to come to the streets. Then, another friend of mine came to help me out and kept me for 9 months. During that time, I joined the Lalit Kala Campus of Fine Arts and studied BFA there (Bachelors in Fine Arts). After those months with my friend, I rented my own room and that is when my true artistic side came to life.
I took everything very positively and looked at things in a positive manner. Things started to look up. I got selected to represent Nepal in Bangladesh, where I was given a 5 star VIP treatment. My room was on the 22nd floor and looking at the city from that height was just magical. After sometime I went back to Bangladesh to try and join the university that had invited me to further enhance my skills, but sadly I was rejected. By that time, I had run out of money so I had to spend the nights on the streets again, but this time of a foreign country. This experience gave me the opportunity to see Bangladesh from two perspectives.

IS THERE ANYONE WHO YOU IDOLIZE OR TAKE INSPIRATION FROM?
Mr. Hem Bahadhur Tamang has helped me a lot through my early days, he guided me and supported me always. One day I was with him at Basantapur, and as you might know, there is a place where they distribute free food. I told him that I was hungry and I’m going to line up there. He said no, and gave me a thousand rupees note instead, and told me to spend it wisely. I spent five hundred rupees on food and other necessities and saved the other five hundred rupees. For it, I am ever grateful.

YOU HAVE BEEN THROUGH A LOT. WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM THIS EXPERIENCE?
This one time, I fell extremely sick. A cycle being my only mode of transportation, I somehow managed to ride to the hospital, where I ended up screaming in pain. I only had the remaining five hundred rupees with me and that was not enough for my treatment. Even though my family members and other relatives lived close by to where I lived, no one stepped up to help me get through this rough and difficult time. I did manage to get the treatment done by scraping every penny I had, but this taught me a new thing: you should never depend upon anyone else.

WHICH WAS YOUR FIRST MURAL?
I wanted to make my first mural in Nepalgunj. So with the help of my friends to manage the funds, I went back to
Nepalgunj. The topic of my mural was ‘Bhadragol Desh ko Byasta Nagrik’ (the Busy Citizen of an Unmanaged Country). The reason behind choosing this topic was to create awareness among the public. I don’t like people blaming each other about things not being done. So, if we give just one minute a day towards the development of the nation, we will be contributing 3 crore minutes every day which will create a revolution within the country.

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I rented my
own room
and that is
when my true
artistic side
came to life.
I took
everything
very positively
and looked
at things in
a positive
manner.
Things started
to look up.

 

TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR OTHER WORKS.
I have done a lot of murals, but the most popular one is ‘Nagarik Masta Desh Asta Besta’ (Busy Citizens, Shambled Nation) which says is that everyone is busy with their own life and their own careers that they don’t have time to look around at what is going on with the world. They are just occupied by their own world. So in order to make people realize that there is more to the world than just their lives. ‘Ma Masta Desh Asta Besta’ (I’m Busy, Country’s Shitty) is also a similar topic to the one I mentioned before. These murals can be found on the wall of Himalayan hotel while some of them were done outside the Kathmandu Valley like Tikapur, Kailali, etc., in the initial phase. Bikash vs Binash (Develop vs. Destroy) is also another very interesting topic, this was focused towards all the destruction that is going on in the name of development and to let people notice if it’s right or wrong.
‘Jalai Ki Maaut’ (Death of a Woman) is about domestic violence where a pregnant woman was burned to death. This is relating gender equality and violence towards women which got a lot of highlight. Another mural relating to the pressures of being a girl was portrayed in one of my pieces named ‘Cross the Border’. This is about encouraging girls to break the limitation set by the older generations and try to look into life through their own point of view. This mural was done in Chitwan.
‘Nasha ma Haina Aba’ (No more in a High) was about drug abuse amongst the youth. The main purpose of this mural was to help with the youth of our country to realize the effects of drugs and stay away from it. ‘Sankat ma Prakritik Ruchika’ (Nature in Danger) is related to natural disasters mainly the devastating 2015 earthquake and protecting the environment in Nawal Parasi. ‘Baula Ma’ (Mad Me) is about wildlife preservation of the endangered wildlife at Ratna Park. ‘Pagal Ta’ (Insane You) is a sarcastic art against the black market, in which four gas cylinders forming a middle finger. This was about the time when India had the trade embargo on us. I got a call from the municipality and was asked why I made such a vulgar art on the wall and I replied the art is not vulgar it’s your vision that’s vulgar as all I had done was painted 4 cylinders, it was them who saw the finger.

WHAT IS THE PROCEDURE TO GET THE WALL ART ACCEPTED?
We have to get the permission of the house owner to paint on their wall. If they say go ahead then we carry out our project. The local authorities are not much involved since it is a private property. When we do them, we come across two sorts of people; people who offer what little help they can, like water, juices, snacks, etc.; and people who just let us paint the wall but will not once look at the painting nor the effort we have put into making it and will not even think of offering water while we paint under the scorching heat.

WHAT’S IN STORE FOR THE FUTURE?
I am currently busy with a project that we recently started. Me and my team will be making 100 murals all across Nepal, this will take about 5 years to complete so we are much occupied currently. We have finished 7 murals so far. We have a long way to go.

ARE THESE FUNDED PROJECTS?
No, these are not funded. We are doing this out of our own pockets. We are open to accept funding, but we are only open towards local funding. I do not want to involve foreign fundings into our projects. Our nation has enough resources to fund our projects if they want, so if the locals or the authorities want to help us out financially, then we will be very honored.

WORDS: ANKIT R. TULADHAR | PHOTO: GAURAV XHOMPATE SUNUWAR

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