Slums are largely known as crowded and unsafe areas where streets smell of sewage. In Nepal, artworks of epic scale in one of Kathmandu’s largest shantytown are increasingly attracting people to this seemingly inaccessible world.
Seb Toussaint and Spag from the Outsiders Krew, an art collective founded by British and French street artists, started splashing the slum with colors during their visit to Kathmandu in May last year. The artist duo, in association with the Nepal Children’s Art Museum, and a group of about 20 young painters, collaborated on the ‘Share the Word’ project to beautify the area.
Narrow crooked alleys and crumbling shacks have been turned into giant canvasses giving power back to the slum community in this fascinating labyrinth.
The initiative aims to understand what slum communities want to express and upgrade the habitable environment through art.
“They managed to turn the most horrible place in town into a livable and colorful neighborhood,” said Mr Arjun Khdak, a construction worker who has been living in the slum for the past 32 years.
What has now become an unexpected street art zone was built in the 80s on the banks of the highly polluted Bagmati river. Today roughly 800 people live in the slum’s 156 small houses.
Using art as a medium, the aim is to bridge the gap between this apparently blighted area and the rest of the city. The slum is situated right in the hearth of the city meaning that tourists, school kids and commuters can have a look at the monumental murals and interact with the inhabitants.
Many locals allowed artists to spruce up the walls of their tumbledown settlements with uplifting words such as ‘Change’, ‘Welcome’ and ‘Thank You’. Locals themselves, especially the younger ones, took brush and colors and started wall painting under the eyes of curious passers-by.
In Kathmandu, squatter homes are periodically being demolished. The latest eviction occurred in 2012 when the municipality and the Armed Police Force dislodged 257 households without providing any alternatives, leaving around 944 people homeless. Despite warnings, most slum dwellers have rebuilt their homes on the same spot. Researches show that by tearing down houses, you also tear down social networks, which help people to cope with a difficult situation, and offer a sense of identity and belonging. This crowd-funded project on urban settlements around the world shows the power of slum upgrading initiatives, in contrast with eviction and bulldozing.
-Bibbi Abruzzini is a journalist for Good Elephantpassionate traveler working as a foreign correspondent in South Asia.
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