29 May 2017
7 min read
Art & Culture
Kiran Maharjan, a Nepali street-artist, is best known by his pseudonym 'H11235'. His spray-painted murals often deal with themes such as wrath, greed, envy, sloth and pride. His other street art pieces are grayscale portraits of people that were made for a nonprofit street art movement called 'The Prasad Project'. The project, first initiated by ArtLab in 2013, sought to comment on the growing number of Nepali youths leaving for foreign countries.
In this week's Artists' Studio, VMAG's Sujana Singh talks to Maharjan about his art, his experiences and the street-art scene in Nepal.
What's H11235? What is its meaning?
H11235 is my pseudonym and the numbers are the first five numbers of the Fibonacci sequence. H is a reference to the character Hyde from RL Stevenson's book The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. So basically, it is about juxtaposition and contradiction, which, most of the time, inform the aesthetics of my work.
How did you start making street art?
I started around six years ago when I used to find skateboarding really interesting. During school, I did not join a skateboarding team, but I used to skate a bit and was, over time, introduced to the graffiti culture. I ended up painting on skateboards and made a few graffiti pieces and some small stencil works along the way. But these were all secondary outlets for me; I felt like specialising on canvas painting or drawing (which I had been doing) was the right way to start my career in art. When I took my sketches and drawings to commercial galleries and to Thamel, I got rejected many a time. I was struggling and finding it difficult to showcase my artworks to an audience, so street art seemed like a viable solution. I was into characters then, so I painted this weird-looking character on an overhead bridge near my home. The fact that I didn't need permission to showcase my art turned out to be an interesting aspect of street art.
How has international street art works played a role in your work?
Street art has come to a point where it's not reined in by boundaries. The field is also dominated by many technically skilled people, many of whose artworks have influenced me-like Belgian street artist ROA, who paints animals, and French artist MTO. When it comes to their work, I am inspired by the fact that they are testing the limitations of street art. MTO's installation/urban intervention for the 2016 Nuart Festival spoke volumes to me on how style and context can change for artists with time. He was into spray painting realistic designs (portraiture) and carried off his creation in a way that intrigued me. He also made a piece of installation art that used as its subject an error he had found on Google Map. That was interesting to me because street art has two lives-one, on walls, and an equally important second one, on the internet. This idea of using Google images and how it's shaping street art shows how things have been taken to whole another level.
Where do your concepts for street art come from?
My concepts do not stem from one particular thing or the other. I always research about a topic in the beginning. I consider how other artists have created their works and how culturally and religiously significant certain topics are. I like to have multiple narratives in a particular work. So my concepts come after observing a lot of art works, and it begins from research.
Can you talk a little bit about the Prasad Project and how it came about?
Prasad Project was a non-profit street art movement across Nepal. Whenever we would go to a city, we would find at least two local idols from that place and collect information about them to create street art in honour of their legacy. The Prasad Project came about as a result of different things. We observed how people had been leaving Nepal for jobs abroad and as a commentary on that phenomena, we wanted to feature iconic Nepalis who would show that there's still hope left in our country. In the end, we thought street art was the perfect medium that would allow us to communicate with our audience-for we had already been doing street art, and street art also happened to be a medium that spoke to younger generations. The first phase of the project took place in 2013, when we painted murals and made big wheatpaste street art works of different heroes. I chose Satya Mohan Joshi as one of the heroes for the project.
For our second phase, we took Prasad Project to Birgunj and Pokhara. The participants at Pokhara were more informed about the street art scene than the participants from Birgunj, probably because Pokhara is one of the major spots in Nepal for international graffiti-writers, after Thamel. We gave workshops on various techniques like wheatpasting, stencilling, graffiti lettering and spray painting in Birgunj. At the end, our team made a big mural with the participants of two local Prasad heroes, Durga Baral and Hari Devi Koirala.
Do you see street art growing over the next few decades in Nepal?
Definitely. I believe the street-art scene has the potential to grow in the coming years, with many talented artists joining in and the public's being more involved in its process. I think street art in Nepal has been growing unlike at any other place in the world, and I think that it is important to keep that growth organic. Hopefully, in the coming years, street art will gain more respect and credibility so that it can become a means for social change, discussion and expression among the youth. And yes, many more exciting things are yet to come in the next few decades from ArtLab.