Daas: One painter’s pilgrimage to Kolor Kathmandu and beyond
By Sarahrose Ministeri
Transcontinental artist and entertainer Daas is no stranger to travel and adventure in the name of art. Born in the United States, he studied, learned, and found the inspiration to create vibrant art throughout his life.
In 2007, his work on large-scale murals that beautified many walls and buildings sparked the interest of Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan. Executives welcomed Daas, his art, fresh ideas, and vibrant personality to their team of live entertainers. He fell in love with the culture of Japan and a Japanese woman who would later become his wife. Daas now calls the Kansai region his adopted home, and he lives and works to share his art and inspire others in his community.
His life and experiences in his new home led him to create his most recent series of paintings, “The Origami Dream”. The series has been exhibited in both the U.S. and Japan.
The most recent stop on Daas’ journey brought him to Kathmandu, Nepal, as part of Sattya Arts Collective’s “Kolor Kathmandu”. The project intends to create 75 site-specific murals in Nepal. Visiting artists work alongside local artists and community members to create murals that will inspire and attract visitors for years to come.
The artists participating in the project are all volunteers. Although Sattya provides paint and some supplies, acquiring travel expenses and accommodations for 21 days in Nepal were Daas’ first challenges. So, he launched a fundraiser online in an effort to help offset the cost.
Once he arrived in Kathmandu, each day brought a new challenge. “My journey to Sattya every morning is a pleasant stroll through alleyways filled with fighting dogs, urine and feces in the streets, open-air butcher shops pouring blood across the road, and honking horns from taxis and motorbikes careening passed me,” he wrote in an email to a friend in the U.S. The discomfort and stresses of being a stranger in an impoverished, polluted, country were a heartfelt lesson for Daas as both an artist and a man.
“You can see places like this in movies and on TV, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to the reality of being here. It’s poor. So poor,” he wrote, “Personally, I’m evolving. Rapidly.” It wasn’t an easy time. Looking at the completed murals, one would think otherwise. Daas’ time in Kathmandu was as much an exercise in survival as it was in creativity.
The red panda, a small, arboreal mammal that lives in Kathmandu’s Rasuwa district, was the subject of a mural Daas painted on a building’s side just above the Basmati Bridge. The red panda is unfortunately fighting for its survival and is on the endangered species list. Daas was excited about the impact his design would have and the location where it would be viewed.
“Knowing that thousands of people, everyday, will see this huge, colorful painting — in a sea of grey, deteriorating buildings — felt like I was helping to breathe new life into the city. I wanted to give the people something to spark awareness as well as imagination,” he said.
The news of visiting artists and their mural work throughout the region did indeed spark the interest of many. The principal of the Shikshantar School contacted Sattya Arts Collective requesting to participate in Kolor Kathmandu. Daas and the school faculty decided to do a workshop with students, working together to create a vibrant, large mural of an elephant walking through a field of flowers.
Daas adapted to his new role as teacher quickly. The students responded with enthusiasm and, of course, the inspiration that only the innocence of childhood can invoke. Innovation was key, as Daas and his Nepalese assistant Alok worked to instruct, supervise, and paint. Supplies like scaffolding and ladders are hard to come by in Kathmandu, so they improvised by attaching paintbrushes to 12-foot poles.
“It was a crazy technique, but lent itself to interesting effects and mistakes,” Daas said. He and Alok worked long after the school bell rang. “I think the kids will be pleasantly surprised tomorrow morning,” he wrote in another email to a friend.
“The Origami Dream” series has always been a way for me to bridge the cultural gap I have with Japan, and it seemed appropriate to share that in the same way with the people of Nepal,” explained Daas.
On the day Daas was scheduled to return to Japan, he suddenly found himself with yet another challenge. The country was in the midst of a bandh, a form of protest similar to a general strike. Thus there was no transportation to the airport, and he found himself walking almost an hour to catch a shuttle.
“In Kathmandu, life was hard, but I felt alive. I find myself thinking about the wonderful people I met and the passion burning within them,” he reflected. “They don’t see the struggle, they see the journey.”