Street art in Thamel, Nepal

There is a kind of universality to street art. By street art, I am referring to the full spectrum of  piss-weak one-note tags to intricately layered pieces and acrylic wall murals.

I’ve found street art on all my travels: from the back alleys of (r)Adelaide, to the cobblestoned streets of hipster-before-it-was-cool Kochi, and now the labyrinthine, dust-choked streets of Thamel.

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For some artists, there is the intent to espouse some kind of deeper political message (a la Banksy) and maybe even commemorate a particular space. But once the wall has been tagged and abandoned, and in the absence of a slick blurb to silently curate the piece as in galleries, interpretation is no longer in the author’s control.

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I love stumbling upon street art. The process of discovery is like a visual Kinder surprise for the aesthetically inclined. Pieces can be tucked away in the corner of a laneway, or behind the chestnut-laden cart of a street vendor, and even three storeys high on a building facade, with all the permanence of a creeping vine.

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It’s easy to forget that there is always a person behind the piece. That someone would have spent hours crafting a design, assembling their materials, finding a location, and skilfully setting paint to concrete, while the grime of the city moves to thwart the work before it is even complete.

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The only time I attempted to paint in a fairly public space was at Sydney University’s legal wall which I affectionately remember as ‘the tunnel’. Feeling self-conscious, I had picked a time when I’d hoped no one would be around. Even then, my attempt to be nonchalant about my runny, messy lines was flustered when an elderly lady walked past and declared, “This spray paint is triggering my asthma.”

From that point onward, I’ve preferred to take photos of other people’s work. Graffiti can reveal much about an urban environment. It can be a snapshot in time, a call to arms, or simply the equivalent of a canine territorial marking. I don’t think it would be fair to extrapolate any great truths about Thamel’s diverse and colourful graff, but it’s amazing to see local and religious references (such as rhinos and Hindu demons) interwoven with the more conventional forms of iconography.

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