Jan 23, 2013

7608 Miles

by: James Burns

*In the fall of 2012, Staff Artist and muralist James Burns traveled to Nepal to facilitate a mural project in Kathmandu. We asked him to share his story in a travelogue essay. This is part 1. Keep an eye out soon for part 2. 

7,608 miles is the distance between Philadelphia and Kathmandu.

In 2004 I graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where I met a gentleman named Binod Shresta from Nepal. He was also working toward an MFA degree at the Academy. At the same time I started school, I also began working with Mural Arts. By the time I graduated I’d worked on roughly a dozen murals as an assistant, an instructor and with students in different schools and summer camps. I’d even figured out a way to acquire some design experience.

A few years after graduation, I received an email from a Nepali named Pranab Man Singh.  It was a request for information on mural-making. We had a few video conferences and eventually an invite came. Unfortunately, I was in no position to fund a project, or travel so far from home. In the spring of 2012, I got a call from the U.S Embassy in Nepal. They’d reached out to gauge my interest in coming to visit and share some of my experience. After a follow-up call from the embassy in D.C. the trip was finally set.

The trip was quite long. 32 hours from airport to destination with a few transfers, one in Kuwait and one in Bahrain.

Upon arriving in Nepal I was fascinated by the desks that held the customs agents and the hand carved details that showed both the level of craft I could expect to see in Nepal, and their age.

I was greeted by a handler from the embassy and acquired a visa on site. Soon after, my contact from the embassy took me to the hotel for a short rest.

On my first day I traveled to the cafe where we would be installing the mural. I met with Sujan Chitrikar, Pranab Man Singh and Suvani Singh who would prove to be the key collaborators in this whirlwind visit. I also met with a young American artist, Isan Brant, who was in Nepal on a Fulbright Scholarship studying with traditional Paubha artist Lok Chitrikar. We had lunch together and Isan took me through Patan to see the Old city. I found myself in one of the most historic sites in Nepal amidst the Festival of the dead. We walked through the crowds of people who delivered offerings of rice, oil, and pigment to the deities at the chaitya.

Last updated: Jan 27, 2016

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