Stumbling upon a shanty-town work of art in Kathmandu

(Continued from yesterday.)

… From there I crossed the toxic Bagmati River, and eventually stumbled across a slum called Bainsighat – a tight-knit community of up to 800 people living in around 150 homes. Again, it was a flash of colour down an alleyway that led me in, where I discovered the rich, incongruous street-art gallery created by Outsiders Krew in 2014.

Outsiders Krew is an art collective founded by street artist Seb Toussaint and photographer Spag. In addition to Kathmandu, they have travelled to Jakarta, Nairobi, Bogota, Manila, Cairo and Caen, creating a rich tapestry of street art in low-income communities. The aim of their art project, titled Share the Word, is “… to use graffiti and its power to attract attention and stand out in the urban environment, to bring the focus on a specific community through its own words.”

They worked closely with the residents about what words they wanted painted on their homes, and created the colourful shack-canvases with the help of local artists, including a group of children from the Nepal Children’s Art Museum. I’ve seen photos of the dusty, drab community before the Outsiders Krew arrived and I can assure you, it’s richer for their visit. The people themselves seem proud to have been part of the project, and the fact that their formerly-invisible shanty-town is now a tourist drawcard.

The project was not without its share of controversy though. When it was reported by local media that the pair had painted the façade of the sattal (pilgrims’ hostel) of the 19th-century Shiva temple in the area, Kathmandu’s intelligentsia and others on social media reacted with indignation and anger. This despite the fact that they had permission and support from the community leaders and the local sadhu, who apparently admitted that he asked for the improvements “not just because it looked nice, but because after years of asking the authorities to restore the sagging, dilapidated façade, he wanted to grab their attention”.

Ironically, the building was one of the many destroyed in the series of earthquakes in April and May this year.



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