Story through Symbols

Kupondol Mural Paintings

Artists Benjamin Swatez tells stories of slavery and freedom that welds together art and the most pressing social issues of our times.

Text by Archana Shrestha

How the mural artists of today are able to transform a concrete wall into a canvas for surreal paintings, and boundless imaginations is fascinating and equally enlivening. Walls have become a medium for artists to convey what words might fail to do. One such mural painting inside the valley is on a wall outside Hotel Himalaya in Kupondol.

The mural tells a series of stories from slavery to freedom that welds together art and the most pressing social issues all over the globe: Women Empowerment. Rachiv Dangol, the country director for Human Rights Film Focus Nepal (HRFFN), shared the incredible journey of their mural art making that had started five years back under a social initiative named ‘Wall of Hope’. Their very first mural painting had been outside the wall of the European Consulate at Uttar Dhoka, Kathmandu. HRFFN has since then worked with children in schools and youth in Nepal with a single motto of ‘ending violence against women’ through the medium of art and symbolism.

Benjamin Swatez, the visionary behind the mural painting, considered himself a vagabond until he was approached by Bev Hoffman, the art director of HRFFN and international advisor, which led him to have a project oriented focus for the Wall of Hope. He believes that mural painting as a street art culture not only helps passers-by ‘take a moment and break out of their mundane routine and feel something which they wouldn’t have if not for the art’ but also to let them contemplate issues within the society. “Street art can be a powerful influence on people. It helps to open up new avenues in the way they think,” says Swatez. The colors used in the paintings are a metaphor depicting life and the power to choose. Swatez, who had spent a year in Denmark without using any colors in his artworks, as a form of his art experiment, has made maximum use of bright red to contradict the former. Red as a common theme in the Kupondol mural, is used in the portrait of a woman to color her lips, skirt, saree and the bandana that covers her eyes. Swatez explains that in the mural, the color red depicts oppression, sadness, slavery and being blinded. While moving towards the right side of the wall, as the woman is transformed, the same represents blessing, beauty and love. The beautiful green of the eyes emphasizes the divinity of woman as Swatez correlated it with the Holi festival and the demonstration of unconditional love of nature. As for the color of the faces and skin, Swatez has stuck to purely black and white. ‘We didn’t want to emphasize one skin tone over another; it represents equality.’

The artists who have collaborated to put up the mural paintings together are Mexican artists, Dolores Martina and her daughter, Andrea Meral; Nepali artist, Lok Chitrakar, Bimal Bolakhe for Nepali calligraphy, Bethany Richards, Kurchi Dasgupta, Bev Hoffman and Rachiv Dangol to name a few. “The final result of the mural painting is the product of micro and macro perspectives of random strangers passing by the artists who came together for the art,’ explains Swatez on behalf of all of the artists and contributors who came to create this magnificent mural, saying that they were using their form of intelligence to make a difference on the issue that needed to be addressed. ‘You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.’ Swatez quotes Mahatma Gandhi.