Sahara : Slivers of Fantasy

January 23, 2014 , by Supriya Rai, Leave your thoughts
Sahara : Slivers of Fantasy » My Dreams Mag
Sahara Shrestha is an accomplished curator of stories. She weaves fragments of tales into a single tapestry to construct her own storyline. Be it in her photos, her designs or her writing, Shrestha expertly creates a layered plot that unveils itself one act at a time. Voted as one of the 12 new emerging artists in 2013, by The artist catalogue, Sahara is ushering in a new era of Nepali artists who boast both the urbane flair and cultural sensibilities to boot. Graphic designer, art columnist, photographer and a writer, we celebrate the indelible mark this promising artist has made in the fiercely competitive NY art scene.  


  • When did your interest in art, design and culture manifest itself?

I was drawn to making art because I saw it as a way of telling stories. I’ve always been interested in narratives but I remember in second grade, when the teachers paired us up for a weekly story writing project I was more concerned with making a cover for the notebook that we shared while my partner was all about action adventure stories. I used gift wrapping paper for the cover along with some doodles and he took the book home one day.

But I guess I was into things like art and music and movies from an early age, and that was when MTV was worth watching, as was Star Movies. We also rented a lot of movies from Suwal. For my eleventh birthday, I got a little film camera. I loved taking pictures. I used to scan my prints and alter them on the computer or I used to make scrapbooks and make stories. We also always had books and magazines at home and I used to see my sister creating her magazine prototypes. My brother was also a writer and disc jockey so as a kid I thought the two of them were the coolest people ever. Early teens, I explored writing poetry and made my first collage pieces.


  • Did you zero in on Graphic designing as your career of choice from early on?

There was a time when I considered a career in science despite my hobbies but I decided otherwise when I applied to college in the US because that was the time I was examining my own skills. Since I was always drawn to creative activities, I think it was a slow and inevitable process in the making. I once seriously considered going to school for fashion design as well, but I think graphic design was always around in my household and so it was more accessible.


  • What was your version of the American dream when you first moved to New York at the end of 2007?

Honestly, I had zero expectations but central heating in apartment buildings and endless supply of hot and cold water does count as something. Also, something like the Museum of Modern Art being just a train ride away seems surreal sometimes. The main idea was to learn how to be independent. In reality, America doesn’t seem to be the land of milk and honey for all, but I do wonder how differently it has shaped me in comparison to being in Nepal.


  • Is it plausible then to say that to a certain extent, it’s the city that makes an artist?

I don’t know for sure if it’s the city that makes the artist but this one sure makes me work harder. And of course, being around other people doing similar things can give you energy. But right now there’s a lot of debate about whether artists should stay in NYC. Patti Smith, an iconic product of New York, recently said that artists should get out of New York City, simply because the rent is too high, which means not a conducive living arrangement for creative people not making a lot of money.


  • They do say artists have it rough. But as a first generation immigrant student, it must have been doubly tough for you.

I found myself at a financial disadvantage because international students always have to pay more for everything from tuition to student fees, and at the same time they’re not allowed to get a job. It seemed unfair, especially when they kept hiking tuition fees every year. But I’m glad things went smoothly enough. One experience that is more annoyance than difficulty is that some Americans assume you know less than average for being from the “third world”, or sometimes they’ll just tell you that you have culture shock when the real reason you’re quiet around them is because you’re tired from work and school. I mean, what is there to be shocked about here, other than some of the ultra conservative beliefs and behavior? Kathmandu is so westernized, they have no idea.


  • As someone brought up in Nepal, before Internet became this accessible, did your limited exposure to American pop culture and art scene ever work against you given that you work as an art columnist for Impose Magazine?

I got sucked into the indie music and art scene as soon as I moved to New York. It was very easy to like, and to feel like I belonged because I was still young and so was everyone else around me. But yes, I’m still catching up with TV shows like Freaks and Geeks that aired here in the 90s and sometimes you’ll even find me using the urban dictionary.


  • Your works have appeared in local and national publications and last year you were also selected as one of the 12 emerging artists by ‘The Artist Catalogue’. Do you finally feel like you have earned your space in the competitive NY art scene?

Since I am done with college, I have time to get back to working on my art projects now. So that must mean I’m making progress. I’m also meeting more people invested in arts and literature than I did in college and that has given me more opportunities for doing the things I do.


  • Your Transporters: A collage series was a powerful summation of the reality of Nepalese people that managed to both delight and move in equal measures. Please expand on the series.

I have written about this more in depth in my artist statement that you can find on my website, but overall the series is kind of homage to the people whose lives are so closely tied to labor, whether it be to build our cities and infrastructure, or to fetch their own daily intake of water. There is a lot of transporting that goes around in our country, so that’s where the collages came from. When I had the first few ideas, I realized I could expand on it by using the theme of transporters. All the photos I used are original, by the way, and most of them were taken by my dad.

I find it interesting to hear what other people see in my works, what Nepalis see and what non-Nepalis see. It’s so much more fun than having to explain myself.


  • You are also a founder of Society of Graphic Arts, Nepal. What is the purpose of SGA?

SGA is essentially a platform to promote contemporary Nepali artists at a national as well as international level. I am really excited about how vibrant the art scene in Nepal is right now, especially contemporary graphic art with the murals, zines and renowned little design companies. It’s exciting to be of this generation, doubly as an artist. But sometimes, being away from home and national media / publications, I find it hard to keep up with new Nepali artists, or new projects and trends, even on the internet where you’re supposed to be able to find everything.

For example, graphic designer Kreeti Shakya also used to have a facebook group for Nepali designers but I would have never known this had I not taken the initiative to talk to her for SGA. It’s interesting to think about how ideas and inspirations spread in the age of the internet. The effect of that broader sense of design community connected online is definitely reflected in young Nepali designers’ works.

What I saw when I was there seemed like the dawn of it, but it’s been morning and it’s going to shine bright for a pretty long time, I think. I wanted to be a part of all of this somehow, and I just want to support it regardless of whether or not it needs me so I’m planning to do an SGA show in New York soon. Basically do some fun things to showcase this group of artists.


  • Who according to you are the ones to watch in the Nepali art scene?

You’re going to have to keep up with SGA updates for that one haha. I’ve said this before and will say it again though; Prachin Siddhi is doing amazing work. My friend Shrijit also has this awesome new book of illustrations, Beluki.


  • Do you think you could have achieved the same level of success had you stayed behind in Nepal?

We will never know! Why not, but it’s hard to tell? Not necessarily because of what’s accessible in Nepal vs. New York, but more because in New York, the drive of people around you doing incredible things can nudge you towards working your butt off.


  • What are you working on next?

I’m honored to say that, as founder of SGA, I have been invited to host a graphic art contest held by The City Museum Kathmandu. I’ve also been designing materials such as logos and brochures for them. That has been the big one. Otherwise, just quietly working on sketches for a couple of photo projects and a script for a short film that I am hoping will work out.

Shrestha was one of the youngest writers in Wave back in 2005. That was when she had quit school to teach herself the A-levels course. This then is the gist of her journey so far – take chances and dare. And if possible, make a collage of advices, fears, lessons, experiences and reflections that come your way and let it inspire your own unique path to the top.

Find her work at www.sanssequel.com


Interviewed By: Supriya Rai
Images: Sahara Shrestha

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