The dream has taken wingsArtist Milan Rai always wanted to bring art to the people.
Rajita Dhungana caught up with the street artist to talk about his career and interests outside of it. Excerpts:
Tell us about your fascination with the butterflies.
I can identify with the phases in the life of a butterfly—the way it transforms from a caterpillar to a cocoon and finally evolves into a beautiful winged insect. I think I’m in the larvae stage at the moment and I think I’m capable of change too. As an artist, I love to express myself, and the butterflies are my emotions translated into material. They signify love and happiness. A project that was an emotion-driven act has, I believe, connected with different people in different ways. Butterflies have become an inseparable part of me.
How has the Butterfly Project changed you?
In the past, I wanted to become a great artist, but now I want to become a good human being. This project has helped me to interact with lots of people and has made me wiser. It has taught me how to walk the path of awareness, and I’ve stopped complaining and judging. It has changed me for the better. I have learnt to love and share.
Is there anyone you look up to as a source of inspiration?
I enjoyed painting from my childhood, but due to family problems, I was unable to take up arts academically. So I’m a self-taught artist. I started referring to various works of arts and experimented on my own. I think my own memories and imagination have helped me evolve as an artist. Later on, I started collaborating with other artists and musicians, something that has proved to be a great learning experience for me.
Other interests apart from work?
I like to travel a lot. I’m also fond of gardening. Other than that, I like to read and watch movies. I enjoy gazing up at the open sky whenever I can. It makes me feel connected to nature and at the same time inspires me in many ways.
What kinds of films and books do you prefer?
I prefer artistic movies and documentaries mostly. Dogville, directed by Lars von Trier, is my all-time favourite. It is intense and I really like the way it has been directed. The presentation breaks conventions.
Talking about books, I like to read both fiction and non-fiction. I also enjoy reading philosophy. Among the books that I have read recently, I really enjoyed The Museum of Innocence, by Orhan Pamuk.
You’ve travelled to many places. Any memorable incident you’d like to share?
As part of my Butterfly Project tour, I was on my way to Germany. I finally landed in Frankfurt to find that no one was there to receive me. The airport was colossal. It was my first time abroad and I was worried. I waited for hours but no one came. I tried asking for help but nobody was willing to communicate in English. So I sat down in a corner and opened my suitcase. The suitcase had a few pair of clothes and the rest of the space was filled with butterflies. I was helpless and started crying. I had this realisation then that life is a fairytale of sorts. I sat there imagining butterflies all around me.
What do you think is your biggest strength?
I’ve got the ability to love unconditionally. I’m walking towards that path and I’m enjoying my journey so far. Also, having a positive outlook towards life is one of my biggest assets.
Any regrets regarding what you’ve been doing?
Initially, when I started out with the butterflies, nobody believed in me. People laughed at the idea and it was also difficult for me to gather funds. I was angry with the discouraging remarks to start with, but I started doing it on my own regardless. But once people noticed the butterflies in the streets, even strangers started contacting me. I believe in trying and failing rather than regretting not doing anything.
Are you superstitious?
I’m not superstitious and I only believe in the religion of love. I believe in miracles, more than god or religion. Recently, for example, I was frequenting the municipality office because I wanted to take permission to paint a rainbow in Khulamanch. The officials turned a deaf ear every time. But on the seventh day, I just sneaked into the premises with my team at 3 in the morning, and painted a rainbow on the stage.
After four months, I went there again to find the rainbow retouched and painted more precisely than the way I had left it. I also saw saplings being planted around that place. I felt so happy.
What are your upcoming plans?
Rather than planning for the future, I try to enjoy whatever is happening in the present.
Through the butterfly project, I have found that art can touch lives. So I am focusing more on community involvement these days and have been sending butterflies all around the world. Other than that, I want to keep experimenting with and exploring with various forms of art.