IMAGINE (aka Sneha Shrestha) is a Nepali artist who incorporates her native language and meshes the aesthetics of Sanskrit scriptures with graffiti influences. She has shown her meditative works in several exhibitions, commissioned works, and public walls around the world from Kathmandu to Boston. Her paintings and murals speak about issues of cultural pride, identity, and ideas of home.
Her show “Mindful Mandalas” was on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Her newest work is a thirty-foot sculpture commissioned by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum currently on view. She was recognized by WBUR as one of the 25 millennial artists of color impacting Boston. Shrestha’s work is held in the private collections of Facebook, Google, and Fidelity Investments.
Sneha is also an educator. She established Nepal’s first Children’s Art Museum to provide a creative space where children and youth can develop 21st-century skills through project-based art experiences.
Sneha received her Master’s from Harvard University. Besides creating larger-than-life murals and paintings, Sneha passionately supports Asian art by working as the Arts Program Manager at the South Asia Institute at Harvard.
My name is Sneha, I go by Imagine in the art world. I am an artist from Nepal and my work is based on my native letters. I love painting paintings and larger-than-life murals.
The intention behind my art practice is to build on people’s cultural competency and to share the cultural pride that I have from where I come from. A lot of times I write various mantras in my paintings, mantras are phrases that you repeat over and over again and it’s a huge part of how traditions and festivals kind of take place in Kathmandu and Nepal where I grew up.
I thought long and hard about what name I would choose and whether it would make sense for me to have another name. My Nepali name is already unique enough that I would stand out, and it’s short enough to remember easily. I considered using my real name for the longest time, but then, because my work is inspired by graffiti, I reconsidered. Graffiti writers don’t use their real names, they have street names. Because I’m away from home so much and I’m really close to my mom, I basically took her name. Her name translated into English means “imagination”, so, I went with Imagine. It gives me a sense of responsibility every time I finish a wall. When I’m signing her name, I want the wall and the signature to be amazing, because it means so much. My parents and family are really deep in my heart, so it feels really easy to take that name now that I have it.
The piece is an ode to blue skies! The sky in Nelson really inspired me. When I first arrived, I talked to the festival organizers and several people who’ve lived here all their lives, and they were all telling me how lucky I was during my visit because the sky wasn’t smoky. Since I got here, the sky has been a perfect blue the whole time and I couldn’t imagine this beautiful place any other way.
What it says on the wall is “may the skies forever stay blue”, over and over again. It’s sort of like a wish, that with climate change and rapidly changing weather everywhere, the hope is that we have blue sky days like these over and over again; that things stay this way. I used a lot of shades of blue in it; the majority of the shades are sky blues, so if you take a photo of the wall, even at different times of day, some part of the wall is always matching the sky.
Even when I first arrived, I was already just so excited because the airport really reminded me of the airport in my hometown, Kathmandu, where you walk directly on the tarmac when the plane lands. You’re also immediately surrounded by mountains and hills here just like you are in Kathmandu because it’s a valley. Everyone has been so warm, and it’s so beautiful here. Every single day I woke up and I was so happy to walk to my wall because the walk is beautiful. This is probably the most beautiful place I’ve gotten to paint a mural in. My whole week has been amazing, with the team and volunteers that are so dedicated to making everything happen. The whole trip has been a huge highlight, I can’t pick only one moment.
I would say paint as much as you can. If you are a muralist, you should also have a studio practice, because murals are public works of art and they always have a lot of stakeholders. If you are starting off, you always want to have your voice figured out first, before you have people giving their opinions about what you should paint. And that’s not a bad thing, I think that’s where the power of public art comes from, but I would say definitely have a studio practice and treat it like a job. Put aside time where you’re going to sit and paint or build your website. That’s all part of being a working artist. As far as murals go, it’s a lot of community building, especially in the place to you live. Invest time in your community. I think that’s how the most effective, impactful murals come to be.
I think the role of public art is to transform spaces in a positive way. My murals are in Nepali, so it shares a different cultural aesthetic than is usually in mainstream media. Work like mine creates spaces for people from different cultures and it also allows people to appreciate cultures different from their own. It makes people think of people that are different than them. The big platform that public art has, I take it as my responsibility to share my culture in the most authentic way possible and create conversation.