The Struggle is Real

I have settled into a routine here at MCUBE Gallery in Patan. I awake naturally every morning around 7am, drink 2 cups of hot water and follow Manish in Yog; a very much not western version of Yoga where we loosen each joint from the top of our heads to the bottom of our feet, use breathing exercises and end with meditation and OMs. Then I cook 2 soft boiled eggs and make toast with honey while I enjoy juice or tea and read The Himalayan, a local newspaper which prints both an English version as well as a Nepali version. By the time this routine is finished, it’s about 11am and I’m free to go about my day.

I have started to meet many artists here and I’m fascinated by how similar our minds work. Women’s rights are different in this part of the world and the political statements that are made intrigue me. Compared to what is happening in the United States, where the political climate of issues circles around environmental, immigration and females; it’s obvious we have moved mountains already. Here they are conflicted with the modern existence; struggles with traditions and accepting women to have minds of their own, understanding the complexities of science and how to better their world. Life is much harder here and the general idea has been surrounding community where everyone plays their part, one life may only be a cog in the wheel, humility is readily practiced to the point of not being able to accept each as an individual.

This has created a dissonance within my mind of art in this world. While each artist works in their own studio and own works, there is a great overlap of ideas that are displayed in unique styles, representing their own imaginings of how their world is vs how they want it to be. The other day, I visited a studio nearby called Kasthamandap Studio where I met, conversed and viewed works by 5 Nepali artists who show throughout the world. Erina Tamrakar who has evolved through being a woman, Bhairaj Maharjan who enjoys landscapes and explores the idea behind Buddha and peace, Binod Pradhan who has an impressive array of landscapes melted together using a watercolor technique, Pramila Bajracharya who uses oil to convey simple and emotional landscapes and Asha Dangol who focuses on juxaposing new with old ideas and his own body to evoke thought on violence, peace and new beginnings. All of their work is visually stunning and each studio represents their artistic perspective and their influence through ideas even while they are all striving collectively through the Nepal art community. I learned that after the big earthquake almost 3 years ago, there was an upswing of creativity while they struggled with petrol shortages, a divergence into the modern world as many historical temples were destroyed and a coming to terms with environmental damage and global warming.

Afterward, we stopped off at Beautiful Coffee in Sanepa. Beautiful Coffee is run by a South Korean woman, who is passionate about Fair Trade Coffee and produces the best cafe latte I’ve had in Nepal. She explained the process where they get beans, and shows off the spacious and open front courtyard filled with signs about love and coffee, then the inside which houses a coffee museum and more punny signs intended to leave you with a laugh. We spoke about possibilities of creating a Breakfast at Bethany type party with spoken word, live art and music to transform your soul, all with the assist of tasty coffee and the main ingredient of love. We left after deciding to throw a BBQ on Friday inviting all of the Koreans and others who we’ve met thus far, so we can get to know each other even better and explore further possibilities of promoting love, our common language.

As Graham and I have gotten to know our host, Manish, we have discovered his many pursuits, one of which we are in talks to help promote in the United States. His non-profit Get Well Soon Nepal, an organization using art therapy to help children and families after the big earthquake. We want to use pashmina, which is woven and created into scarves, ponchos, blankets and other items in his textiles factory started by his late mother Urmi to promote and sell, reserving a portion of profits toward earthquake relief. In starting this path, we have needed to create content and we spend a portion of yesterday modeling, taking photos and deciding what would sell best in the United States. This is an exciting venture as we’ve been talking about starting a company of this kind and I even made moves to do this type of project last year with another organization, unfortunately ending with a lack of communication.

 Last night, Graham and I attended a play by Anton Chekov and Adapted by Rose Schwietz, an american who directed and acted in the piece alongside Nepalis. The play was in english and the easiest to follow Chekov adaptation I’d witnessed. It was entertaining to hear the Nepali accents speak about wanting to go to Moscow, though it reminded me of not only my own desire to return to Nepal but the sentiment expressed to me from many Nepalis of wanting to go anywhere else. It was clear this production didn’t have a lot of money for set and costume design though the use of the space and elements played to their ingenuity and capacity to create something from nothing. Rose played the general which normally is a male role, turning a light on LGBT issues which is just starting to come out in this country. It was evident that many students had never been subject to lesbians as a simple kiss at the end led to gasps and shocking photos.

I feel protected and separated from the streets in this residency, which I’m sure my parents are happy with, though it removes a layer of being with the people. I’m seeing a different side of Nepal, the side of people who have luxury to travel and portray their world, the side that has a bed and meals every day, the side of business and commerce that helps and promotes the people who need it, and there are so many people who are in need. Interesting that the people I have met look down upon beggars, they want to protect me from seeing the dark side because they are afraid that is how I will view their country. I see the beauty within the struggle, maybe because I have struggled too. I understand that struggle leads to enlightenment, that to suffer is to live.


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Thamel Twice Over

In the last few days, I’ve kept busy; feeling like myself again after recovering from food poisoning which turned into gastric, basically a bubble in my stomach from too much acidity in my diet due to the spiciness of food. I’m having to keep a special eye on my diet, enforcing more alkaline foods and drinking a special fizzy artificial lemony powder in my water to prevent a new bubble from forming. I went to a grocery store to buy food I can make in the kitchen and I gotta say, I’ve perfected a soft boiled egg which I eat in the morning along with a cup of Ensure with full cream milk to force myself into gaining more weight. We also stocked up on pasta and bread for PB&J sandwiches. It’s interesting to look at prices here, dairy is astronomically high in price along with meat, nuts and candy, while coca-cola, eggs and pasta are about the same. Honey is cheap, ghee comes in large amounts and tomato sauce is basically ketchup. Produce is cheaper on the street, though much of it is imported from India, it all still tastes much more fresh than what I’ve had in the US.

The other day we took a trip to Thamel, I showed Graham the “touristy” area where I started my last trip. We took a big bus over the Bagmati River and after a couple miles we decided walking would be better and wrestled our way through the packed vehicle, paid our 15 Rs and walked for another hour before arriving tired and hungry to a surprisingly calm and empty area. We opted for pizza to set the mood and took our time to enjoying the empty rooftop and service. Afterward, we landed back on the streets which had filled in the meantime and carefully made our way over the uneven gravel and dirt to bargain and purchase items easier found in this compact area of Kathmandu. Graham loved the bargaining and immediately fell in with the locals, joking at the expense and tough deals they claim to make. We sneakily found some hash then continued on for handcrafted paper, a water bottle and somehow managed to run right into a dusty old crystal shop filled with some of the biggest and most beautifully cut rocks I’d ever seen. Our jaws dropped at the prices and we snuck away feeling like royalty.

Yesterday, Manish took us to a couple of gallery openings in honor of International Woman’s Day, a holiday in Nepal where many get a day off. The first gallery was very pretentious, a sales person for each of us followed us offering tea or coffee and making sure we knew the process and that everything was for sale, boasting of big named artists and anticipating our complements on their space. The next gallery was located at the ground floor of a hotel, opening out to a beautiful open courtyard where they hosted a ceremony to honor their artists and one of the longest programs I’d seen. We ended up leaving before it ended mostly because it was entirely in Nepali and we didn’t understand the speeches. A woman sang a couple of Nepali songs and Manish introduced me to a few of the painters while Graham snuck out for a beer and a smoke. Soon we were on our way and we all agreed that we wouldn’t be doing a program to that extent for our own opening.

Closer to MCUBE, we arrived at a magical destination. Walking through the metal gates, the tables and chairs were made of motorcycle and bicycle parts, glass bottles hung from trees and the opening to the cafe was a concrete wall filled with recycled glass and a bicycle wheel for windows and an opening of clear plastic curtain to keep the dust out. We were immediately introduced to a multitude of artists, pulling up chairs, excited to talk with fellow foreigners. Mark Bechtel, a professor of product design at Parson’s in New York was doing a presentation on his work. Garreth, from Wales was showing his photography and shared he was extending his stay after three months while Flora shyly told us she is exploring art after living in Nepal for almost four years, not sure exactly what she wants to focus on. Rebecca is a dancer from Brazil, though she lives in London now and is only visiting Nepal for the first time, having traveled throughout Africa studying tribal dance. Matt is a hacker who works closely with the Burning Man community; he took the left over bikes from last year and is fixing them up to rent out and sell for future use. After a couple cigarettes and coffee and tea, we adjourned to the second level where Mark gave his lecture, explaining his life’s work and struggle of making ends meet while also fulfilling his desire to create art, ending with an invitation to return in a couple of weeks for an exhibit of his residency.

Mark’s lecture was intriguing, his focus has been on objects and figuring out meaning, reasoning and relationship within an anthropologic context and invited us to watch a documentary on Gregory Batesman outside following his presentation. I ordered a bowl of soup and cozied up in an arm chair under the stairs to munch on noodles and knowledge, happily stretching my mind and conversing long after the documentary ended. My mind was buzzing and this was the exact reason I wanted to come to Nepal in the first place, meeting other artists who are pushing their minds to understand and create more questions that cause our human race to move forward. Finally as Manish and Graham dragged me away from the cafe, all of us hugging and promising to see each other soon, Manish asked if we wanted to go out. Graham was tired, but I persisted that I finally was well and I wanted to make the most of the evening.

So, we ended up in Thamel again, this time the unpaved roads were packed with people. Shops were closed and everyone was dressed for a night on the town, Nepalis and foreigners mingled as people were celebrating the end of the week and earnestly spending their hard earned cash on food, cigarettes and booze. We followed our guide to the spot and somehow managed to sneak in without a cover and ascended a metal staircase to a dark bar packed with mostly young Nepali men who hooted and hollered with their hands stuck in the air sharing their love of Rock ‘n Roll. An impressive stage was set up above our entrance with enormous speakers, colored lights and a sound system many bars in LA would die for. A group of security guys next to stage ensured nobody smoked or drank on the dance floor though a mosh pit took over soon enough. The first few songs were in Nepali, though after each song the crowd joined together yelling out their requests for classic songs that would keep the energy going. COBWEB didn’t disappoint playing covers of some of the best Metallica, Linkin Park and Rage against the Machine I’d heard. Pink Floyd is some of my favorite and they blasted out Another Brick in the Wall perfectly rehearsed. The boys asked if I was ready to go and I begged to stay for one more song. Sweet Child O’ Mine came on in that moment and I pushed further into the crowd, thrusting my own hand up in rocker status. A Nepali boy wanted to dance which was fine until he bravely tried to place his hand under my shirt on my hip and I ran back to join my own friends, deciding maybe it was cool to leave before the crowd got too crass. We wove our way through the mosh pit as we found our exit, noticing a few drag queens or possible sex workers posing on the street as we found Manish’s car and laughed the whole way home.

Another wonderful week in Nepal has come to a close. Meetings and plans for the future took place today and I’m fascinated with stars in my eyes as I await the next. The adventures continue as I realize the difference in the Nepal I’m experiencing this trip and the humans who will help shape the focus of my work in the future.


Kathmandu Krud

I’ve hit the ground running since landing in Kathmandu, maybe going a little too hard as I’m now bound to my bed from having ice cubes in my drink. I forget the food and water are different, full of bacteria and different microscopic elements that they are all used to and my American body can’t handle. I went out the other night without Graham to see a friend play at the opening of a restaurant. I was the only white person in the place and received full attention from the array of business men, tech guys and musicians, even a member of the royal family. My friend was a StrawberryPropaganda sticker and after handing them out, I was asked if I could make some of a few other people. At the end of the night, they turned off the lights and we headed out; I rode back home on my friend’s motorcycle, getting in later than expected.

Being sick in a foreign country brings out suggestions that to me, seem a little backward. I’ve been told tea is the cure for everything, I was given a digestive advertised as pomegranate flavor (actually spicy in taste, nothing reminded me of pomegranate) and toast with honey and coffee. Stomach cramps and diarrhea and vomiting ensued for almost 24 hours, dizziness and headache from dehydration and finally I was told I might have to go to the hospital. Luckily I woke up this morning hungry and able to keep the electrolyte water down. I’m currently munching on plain white rice, hoping I’ll have the energy to get out of bed.

I’ve been a busy bee, walking around for Holi Festival, meeting the other artists in the residency program and meeting up with a few Nepalis I had connected with last year. I’m amazed at the progress I’ve seen, especially with paved roads and air quality. I no longer have to wear a face mask while walking the streets and the sky is blue in color.

At MCUBE, Manish is the curator and program director and his father also lives down the hall. We call him Ba. Ba is hard of hearing and he’s missing a few of his teeth, though he’s always smiling and laughs in his curious jolly way, we are slowly able to discern what he is saying. Manish tells us his mother died last year, evident in his short cut, a tradition where the eldest son shaves his head and burns the body of the deceased on the Bagmati River at Pashupatinath. We also have a woman who cooks and cleans, constantly bringing us tea loaded with sugar and sweet pastries. She doesn’t speak much and I’m not sure if she understands my words, I nod at her and she stares back.

Everyday people stop by the gallery to speak with Manish and he introduces us to his students, friends and patients. He has many talents, teaching yoga, crystal cleansing,painting, drawing and he even used to be a rock star playing guitar and singing. He teaches art at a local university and also has many young children who come for a couple hours each week. We are living in a good area of town, buildings are in good shape and most of the roads are paved. There are a good number of Europeans and Americans who walk the streets and a cafe around the corner which is extra safe for foreigners.

This program is filled with four of us artists; I was very flattered to find out I was the first accepted and many people were turned down before Graham was accepted late. Manish thought it would be good to have the two of us who already know each other paired up with two Nepalis who work in the same area. On Friday we all met, taking turns to explain where our interests are and why we are artists. It’s exciting to be starting this journey, we all want to collaborate and explore, everyone is an incredible artist and all of us have received acclaim in our areas. I’m very surprised to learn how much they all respect and admire me returning and the regard in which they hold me as an American painter.

Unfortunately being sick the last couple days has alienated myself, though given Graham a chance to get to know them all better. Yesterday I attempted to rally and we drove an hour to see a gallery opening, only once there I vomited in the bathroom and couldn’t force myself to walk through the exhibit. They cancelled our dinner plans and allowed me to sleep in the back of the car. I hope to be able to revisit once I’m feeling better.

Last night as I was recovering, they made “Pasta Bagetti” or spagetti with onions, peppers, tomatoes, beans and carrots, of course adding some spice to make it more nepali and Ba gave us a sampling of his homemade saffron wine. As the sunset, Manish brought out his guitar and we all sang classic rock ‘n roll songs of Led Zepplin, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the Beatles. This morning I’m feeling much better and I’m off again to explore more of this wonderful magical city called Kathmandu.

Back again

Back again

Singapore is a strange city. At first, it seems nice; it’s very clean and I found it easy to get around and english is the main language. I forgot I was even in a foreign country. After a bit of a wrong way detour, I arrived for the evening in Clarke Quay, having left my travel partner at the airport on account of him ignoring me and walking away. As I settled in, I received a facebook message “help”. He was so distraught he was still at the airport lost and upset I had left him. I gave him my address and told him to hop in a taxi.

It was my birthday and I wanted to go out, however by the time we got settled and had figured out how to be civil, it was 3:30 in the morning and everything was shut down. We walked down the street until we found a 24 hour McDonalds, shared a delicious McSpicy with a CocaCola then found a open area where we got a Pork Bun and a couple of Tiger beers. We cheered and made a truce: If we can be friends, this trip will be much more smooth, the past must be let go and we have to move forward working together. Eventually we went back to our closet of a hotel, where we fell asleep.

The next morning we ate a bit of breakfast, checked out and ventured outside: It was hot and humid. We opted to carry our bags as we didn’t want to return to the hotel before the flight and set off to see certain sites I had researched. The more we walked, the less happy we became. My bag was heavy and I had my big jacket. Graham was continually confused as to where we were and miserable in the heat.

Singapore is a city full of fines. Everywhere you look, there is a law telling you not to do things and a corresponding fine; Don’t throw your cigarette butts on the ground, don’t chew gum, don’t fish, don’t make annoying sounds, don’t block someone’s path, no eating or drinking or smoking in certain areas, flush the toilet, no singing on the street, don’t feed the pigeons, no drugs of any kind and don’t urinate in the elevators. Punishments include money fines, imprisonment and caning. No wonder it’s so clean!

We got to the airport a couple hours early, happy to be back in air conditioning and really glad to be leaving this sterile expensive world. At the airport, I received a call from a Nepali girl who sang me happy birthday and we made plans to meet for Holi.

The arrival to Kathmandu was a mess, welcome to third world country status. It was dark, lines were long and I used my card to buy our visas, which they gave me a hard time about. Graham was upset with me again and refused to stand close by. Confusion reigned in the air as we were waived through metal detectors with things in our pockets and crowded around the belts to pick up our bags. Graham’s bottle of Jameson bought in Singapore duty free broke open spilling whiskey everywhere as we discovered someone had removed our bags and set them to the side. Frustrated, Graham booked it to the sidewalk for a smoke and I looked for a sign from our driver. We were immediately surrounded by Nepali men yelling out “Taxi! Taxi!” and they loaded our bags into the car, then separated us to demand $20 each for their efforts. Our driver told us not to give them money and we were off to the gallery.

As we drove from the airport, even with difficult interactions, I had the biggest smile on my face. I had been here before and it felt like coming home. Am I really here? Did I really make it? The road is bumpy below the tires, lights pass us on the right side, dust and construction force our driver to maneuver through the streets as I fear his car might break down at any moment. Then we arrive to our destination faster than I anticipate.

The car pulls up to the driveway and honks a few times, flashing his lights to no answer. We open the metal gate, ducking inside the dark front stoop. We ring the bell, our driver calls the phone, still no answer. Graham tries the door which easily pushes open and we say farewell to the driver and bring our bags inside. It’s dark and we try the lights, finding the kitchen, bathroom and our rooms upstairs. The other 2 rooms are emanating strong snores, assuring us that we are in the right place. I venture onto the roof where we see the almost full moon illuminating the buildings, which look like boxes chaotically stacked. We aren’t tired and I start to unpack. I let Graham pick his room first and he opts for the smaller room with a bigger desk and large windows which look out over the street and the second floor porch. My room has much more space for painting and the walls have space to tack up canvas. My desk is smaller but I have more closet space and 2 small windows looking out over the back yard and the gallery space up front. As we are unpacking, the gallery owner pops his head in, apologizing for falling asleep and offers to give us the tour. He surprises us with chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles for my birthday

Manish, the program director and gallery owner has had this house in his family for 5 generations, he built the gallery out front and is working on adding a bathroom adjacent. Half the walls are glass, the other half white filled with beautiful colorful pieces from Manish and other artists. He walks us around to the side with a garden and guava trees and grass, though it’s the beginning of spring and nothing is really growing yet. He takes us inside where he shows us his office and communal areas, explaining which water is drinkable, and how to wash dishes. We ascend to the roof where he shows us a laundry machine and points in the direction of Patan Dhoka and Durbar Square.

Around 4 am we finally fall asleep, making plans to walk over to a Holi celebration in the afternoon. Being back in Nepal is a dream come true, walking the familiar streets, knowing that this time, I’m able to move at a much more leisurely pace and explore in depth what catches my interest. First, my body must adjust to the food and sleep. Tomorrow I will tell you all about Holi and our first gallery meeting.



And I’m off..

I spent an entire day packing up everything I had allowed to spill out over the last few months. I organized, threw away and packed up everything except for my screen printing supplies. I even packed up my wallet, which I dug out along with clothes to wear for the last few days. As I got ready for this trip of a lifetime, I was feeling like something wasn’t right.

The next morning I hopped out of bed, feeling light, chock full of inspiration. I’ve reset my intentions, packed up the stuff that has weighed me down, wrapped up any final pressing issues and said farewell to friends I’ll miss. It’s a big transition and one I’ve contemplated, dreamed of and anticipated through each moment of the last year. At times, I’ve allowed this goal to cloud perspective, and affect judgement. Recently in desperation, I unleased catty anger and vicious gossip to a human who unknowingly intercepted a wrath which afterwards I couldn’t admit was my own. It’s forced my right foot to step back and sit down for a second as I re-evaluate the intention behind actions and words I’ve given to my surroundings. Clearly stated, It’s been hard to show and share love.

I’ve been struggling against life, attempting to force what isn’t natural to be. I’m stubborn and kept reaching.. for this moment, for people to understand love, unconditional love that can never be empty because it flows from me to you to her to him and back to me and then to another. A cycle that can for nevermore be broken because it’s been started, not by I, not by you, by the power of the earth for which we stand, by the power of the sun which gives us light and by the power of our human existence and whatever you or I may believe about any kind of power beyond our realm of comprehension. That is why we have love, that is why we may pass it on, and it can only be given graciously.

In an unexpected twist in my life, realizations and culminations of missed connections collided earlier this week. I ran into an old love, a man who betrayed me by walking away with no notice, only texting that I was extra, an unneeded parasite who could be scraped off at a moment’s notice. It hurt differently than any other previous breakup and sent me on a creative spark which brought about my big Strawberry Lady painting and the beginning of StrawberryPropaganda. Him leaving caused me to reach for a greater range, allowed me to explore a wider world and gave me the guts to say Fuck All, I’m an artist. As he sat in the back of the truck I had found and negotiated, he apologized giving me a glimpse into his past anger that I was never allowed to see before. It’s a cycle of remembrances, a reminder that life and gossip and tears fade; karma does it’s job well as long as we keep to the high road and intently follow our own path.

I will be thirty two tomorrow. Two years into my third decade on the last day of the month of February. I bought a second ticket for my beloved partner to experience my other love: Nepal, then broke his heart days before we left as my past came back with a vengeance. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t kind and I know it hurt him beyond measure. I’m trying to make the best of the situation and I left his ticket open on the chance he still wanted to come. He decided to board the flight, though it’s been tension, fighting and overall nastiness from both sides. We keep apologizing as if it’s enough and it’s left us both broken hearted, each apology leading to the next outburst of deep seated hurt.

This experience though not positive has led me to change seats and led to a conversation with a man who owns an housing company. Apparently he’s looking for artists. I’m looking to be hired. I’m looking to leave the US. I’m looking to explore the world, I’m trying to make the world smaller, to create conversation, to create change, to expose love and all that it has to offer. Positivity and the opportunity to share in a greater vision has kept me going. I only want to learn and grow. I’m curious of other viewpoints, I love perspectives and the education that comes with it.

Nepal has been on my mind, in my dreams and carefully held within my heart. It isn’t just a country to me, it stands for freedom, questioning the truth and accepting the ebb and flow of life. The people, the language, the humble reverence of acknowledging that we are all humans with a brilliant light to share has driven me to return; this time armed with a plan to learn and soak in even more beauty and culture. I’m working as an Artist in Residence at a gallery in Patan Dhoka, older than the rest of Kathmandu. Durbar Square is around the corner filled with temples and stupas of respected deities, unfortunately it was effected by a terrible earthquake about 3 years ago, leaving it with damage. Earthquake damage that has shaken the physical spiritual atmosphere, though as I get to know this country, they seem to be determined to continue and rebuild; even without wealth or resources. Determination that can change the world. That is what inspires me. That is what keeps me going through the rough and tumble of the art world that can be very cut throat.

Art doesn’t have to be competitive. Art comes from within, which is why it is unique to each person. Why do we copy each other? Why do we obsess over details that come naturally to others when we are thinking in a different direction. Is it the insecurity, the fear that we are not the best human we can be? Maybe it’s the desire to be better, to be the inspiration instead of the inspired. Let us not forget, each experience we have leads to the next and leads to inspiration and leads to growth and understanding if we allow it.

What am I allowing from this experience that I’ve just started? I’m determined to have fun, to be positive and let life take the lead for a bit. I’m allowing my heart to be open and light, even through the pain of knowing how much I hurt my travel companion. I’m hoping he’ll decide to grow too and we can share in this trip of a lifetime. Nepal, my love, I’ll see you soon. First, let’s see what Singapore has to offer.