Colourful murals show Nepal's dark side

KATHMANDU - Nepal's capital has been given a facelift thanks to a team of artists who painted dozens of elaborate and metres-high murals on walls, some depicting social issues like child trafficking.

Gone are political flyers, movie posters and other advertisements slapped on some of Kathmandu's drab walls, replaced by colourful paintings, some as high as 25 feet (7.6 metres).

Some 60 artists have been involved in the project called "Kolor Kathmandu" which began in January and will culminate on Thursday with the launch of a book of photographs on the murals.

"Kathmandu used to be a city of art and culture," said Yuki Poudyal, director of the project.

"But when I returned home after five years studying in the United States, I saw that it was bombarded with posters and negative visuals," said Poudyal.

The artists targeted the walls of public and private buildings, in a months-long project that features 75 murals on religious and abstract themes but also on some of Nepal's problems including caste discrimination.

Poudyal said the artists, from some 20 countries, have tried to represent Nepal's 75 districts in the paintings so that Kathmandu residents can "know stories from different parts of the country".

One mural shows girls displaced from their families, during annual flooding that occurs in Banke district on the Indian Nepal border, and falling into the hands of human traffickers.

Poudyal, who studied sociology at St Lawrence University in New York state, said she launched the project after drawing inspiration from street art in US cities like Philadelphia.

"Art like this was limited to the Western world. But now we have introduced it in Kathmandu," she said.

The project received financial backing from Prince Claus Fund, a Dutch charity, and artists were encouraged to apply to take part. Permission was gained from the buildings' owners before the artists started work on their murals, some of which took two weeks to complete.

"Curiosity is a hallmark of street arts and murals. People would stop and watch," the artists work, Poudyal said.

She said the murals also appear to have impressed the poster boys who slap flyers on walls around the city as well as graffiti artists, who have left the murals alone.

"Not a single mural has been painted over by someone. People seem to respect our works," she said.