KATHMANDU, Feb 13: There are young kids scribbling art on plain pieces of paper as we enter the Srijanalaya at Yetkha Baha. Srijanalaya, meaning creative house in Nepali, is a free space for young children of the neighborhood to find beauty in art and freedom in its form of expression.
A small one-room art center, Srijanalaya is much more than just a space for these young children.
It’s a space where these young kids feel comfortable and a space where they learn that expression and art is one of the greatest forms of freedom.
The children draw village mud houses, strange shapes or colorful greenery absent from the concrete jungle that is Kathmandu.
These kids, although confined in the small white walled room, let their imaginations soar far way from the busy hustle and bustle of the city.
Sharare Bajracharya, the 31-year-old initiator of Srijanalaya, is more than happy with her work with these young neighborhood kids.
The art center caters to children of any age, of any background, is voluntary and free for all. Sharare tells us that the arts center is a safe place for these young kids to find a good environment to work, in regards to art or school work.
The arts center is very famous amongst the neighborhood kids; the center always seems to be full, sometimes with eight to 10 children attending after school and before. The number seems to rise during the holidays, with children from other neighborhoods joining the fun.
“Their school curriculum is very suffocating,” says Sharare, adding, “Schools only seem to push these young students even if they haven’t understood any concept of the course but they are still bumped up a grade, and by the time they reach grade 3 or 4, they have no idea what they are doing.”
Srijanalaya also mentors these young kids with their homework and teaches them things they fail to understand in the rigors of the education system at school.
These neighborhood kids don’t get much support at school or at home and that is where Srijanalaya comes into play to bridge the gap and help these kids understand better.
Sharare tells us how she used to visit Yetkha Baha often and how these kids, seeing her often in their neighborhood, started teasing her. And it was during one of these visits, she tells us, that she asked the kids if they ever wanted to draw and their enthusiasm was what inspired her the most to start up her project.
Initially, part of her independent project course requirement for her Bachelor’s of Fine Arts (BFA) course, she started the center, renting a warehouse within the neighborhood. Along with two of her friends, Sunita and Sanjeev Maharjan, she renovated the warehouse to the center it is today.
“I just wanted a space for these kids to be who they wanted to be, a space where they felt comfortable in between their houses and their schools. I also wanted them to stay off the streets and experience arts and education away from school,” Sharare says.
“There’s so much going on in the city, so much chaos, that these kids need a way to process it in a healthy way and this is where art and expression come into play.
There are children who go to Basantapur and collect coins; I wanted them to feel safe and get exposed to art,” she adds.
Parents also seem to be happy with the arts center. “I’m very happy that Srijanalaya opened up in our neighborhood. I don’t have to fear for my children going out and embracing bad habits. They love going to the center and it benefits them. My children have learnt to at least scrawl for now. I’m just asking them to tutor my children as well, they have a hard time at school and are very comfortable with their sisters at the center,” says Ratna Maya Shrestha, a resident of Yetkha Baha.
Sharare tells us how she is looking for volunteers to help tutor these children.
Sharare has employed a young student from Lalit Kala Campus, Bhotahiti, to take over the center for her now. She feels that young students should also have a chance to work with these kids.
23-year-old Ratina Bajracharya works with the children all day, during her vacations from college. She tells us how the first thing these children do after they wake up and the first thing they do after they come home from school is enter the arts center.
She tells us how she tried to nurture individual thinking and want the kids to decide for themselves what to draw and how to draw it.
“The art course in Nepal is very constricting, it teaches you how to draw and how certain shapes and objects are supposed to look,” says Ratina. “I don’t think this is a very good way to teach art to artists. I think art should be left to the artist. From my experience studying art, I try to provide a different way of teaching art to these kids. I just guide them, show them different ways of painting or sketching but I always let them draw and create the way they want to. I think that’s the pureness of art, the freedom of art,” she adds.
Sharare is currently working as a coordinator for Kathmandu International Arts Festival scheduled to start in November. Even working for another organization, Srijanalaya still seems to be at the back of her mind.
She tells us that working for the festival is a platform for her to learn more about management and funding, so that she can apply those skills to her own arts center.
She tells us that she wants to expand, find a more beautiful place, and have kids from all other neighborhoods come to the center. But since the whole center is privately funded by Sharare and her family, expansion is a problem.
“I don’t believe in things getting big, the only important thing that matters is building trust in people and that’s one of the hardest things to do,” she shares. “I plan on expanding Srijanalaya and I know I’ll need some funding for it soon, but I believe that bringing outside funding will taint the pureness of the center. I think something this free and pure should be kept that way, but I eventually will have to expand,” she adds.
Srijanalaya is open for youth volunteers to help kids with their school work or art. Interested candidates can contact Sharare Bajracharaya at 9721383294.