Art – The Universal Language

At first, there was art. Before man had even developed language, art had made its debut amongst humanity. The first signs of art date back as early as 30,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic Age of prehistory in the form of cave wall paintings, which consisted mostly of animal drawings (Prehistoric Art – Paleolithic). According to Celia Washington, a professional artist working at the Kathmandu University, “Art came before language “(Washington, 2006) as the early humans adapted their grunts to fit the drawings of animals they had painted. This theory would make art the first system of communication between human beings and the root of all modern day languages, indisputably establishing art as an essential part of our lives. Even today children learn to express themselves through simple scribbles on paper before learning to write or talk, a reflection of the origins of art created during the existence of our early ancestors. According to the MUS-E project (a project that underlines the importance of artistic practice of different disciplines and different cultures), “Art should not be separated from life and consequently from education. Art is essential to the development of the child. It is thanks to this tool that he can discover his own creative resources which will help him work out new solutions to old problems” (Menuhin, 2006). It is clear that all children should have access to creating art as it allows them to develop their capacity to problem solve, and this capacity can help children to deal with problems in their lives even serious problems such as living with violence. By allowing them to create art, the possible violence they may resort to in order to release repressed anger will be replaced by the creation of art (
The fact that art has been a stepping-stone to human communication for millenniums indicates its importance in our society as a means of expression and mental liberation. As said by Genevieve Bloomfield, the wife of the current British ambassador to Nepal, art historian and teacher at the Art Institute of Baktapur, “Art is an expression of your mind, your heart and your soul, which is not necessarily sweet, it can also be violent but it allows you to know what the mind feels behind art” (Bloomfield, 2006). As an effective and liberating form of expression, art has allowed billions, of all ages, races and cultures throughout history, to put their thoughts and feelings on paper, sand, clay, wood or any other possible support for artwork rather than using physical violence as a mental relief. Unfortunately, violence seems to have become an inevitable part of humanity and the main response to human suffering.

Violence, Hatred and Bigotry – The Roots

It is hard to understand why humanity has never been able to experience total harmony and why mankind seems to continuously have the need for the presence of conflict in a world that indisputably already has too much. Yet, the roots of these conflicts, which have perpetually harmed our brothers and sisters, do not appear to be as difficult to see as many have considered them to be. According to Ramesh Naidu, a writer for, “There are many different causes of conflicts ranging from real disagreements over sovereignty, border, territory, ethnicity, religion, intolerance, ideology, system of governments, power interest, authoritarianism, poverty, corruption etc.”(Naidu, 2006). It is clear, through Mr. Naidu’s cited reasons that there is a lack of communication among humanity’s citizens, and that greed, ignorance and uncertainty are the focal viruses in human nature. As indicated by Mr. Naidu, the problem that causes these conflicts is not restricted to one individual’s mind; it is a “universal human phenomenon” (Naidu, 2006). It is in fact part of human nature to base one’s judgment on past events and experiences. For example, if a person were to get into a fight with another of a different race or country, it can be expected that in the future, both individuals would have developed negative generalizations of each other’s ethnicity unless proved otherwise. This is how a simple quarrel can result in long-lasting inter-racial disagreement, eventually leading to a conflict if more people become involved. Consistent with the causes of conflict and intercultural disagreement, when His Holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama was asked what negative factors ascribe to racism, bigotry and human folly? His Holiness expressed,”Part of the problem I see is a lack of awareness of other cultures and the existence of other communities, and also a lack of understanding of the nature or reality of modern existence... In such a complex modern world there is no room for bigotry and racism” (Dalai Lama 84-85). It can be deduced, from the words of wisdom of His Holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama, that it is clearly ignorance that causes intercultural discrimination and that ultimately separates us. Without awareness of another’s culture, one has no right to discriminate against it or to make false stereotypes against it, for there is no justification behind such judgments. Creating negativity between people is the mere opposite of what all peacemakers seek to accomplish, and as said by Yehudi Menuhin, an American-born violinist and conductor and founder of the International Yehudi Menuhin Foundation, "Each human being has the eternal duty of transforming what is hard and brutal into a subtle and tender offering, what is crude into refinement, what is ugly into beauty, ignorance into knowledge, confrontation into collaboration, thereby rediscovering the child's dream of a creative reality incessantly renewed by death, the servant of life, and by life the servant of love" (Menuhin, 2006). Like a true pacifist, Yehudin Menuhin believed in humans as being the servants of life and having the responsibility of locking the doors of negative incentive in life and opening the doors to positivism. Turning darkness to light and bringing to the world what is ultimately good in life. Following such a theory is the key to bringing peace to our societies for it would solve all problems and bring a sense of unity to humanity, which to this day has not been the case. Sadly, not many people have been able to follow such wisdom, yet it is possible that it is simply because they have not been given the opportunity. However, according to Imam Dr. Abduljalil Sajid, chairman of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony, it is up to the individual to create that opportunity for himself, “Everyone has a choice: to live in their own little world, building walls to keep out those who seem difficult—or to walk a while in another’s shoes and experience their world” ( Nothing can ever be accomplished by alienating the outside world from your own or vice versa. In order to understand or to feel more comfortable with the unknown, you must step into it and experience it first hand. It is not up to the world to come to you but for you to come out of your little bubble and interact with the rest of humanity. It is therefore clear that the opportunity is not provided by anyone else but ourselves, and that the choice to create this opportunity lies in our own hands. According to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the only way to create this opportunity for ourselves is by opening the doors to dialogue between each other. “The reality today is that we are all interdependent and have to co-exist on this small planet. Therefore, the only sensible and intelligent way of resolving differences and clashes of interests, whether between individuals or nations, is through dialogue” ( Ignorance, as mentioned earlier, is the obvious weakness in the system; however there is a solution to such a problem and this solution lies in the sheer simplicity of dialogue, according to His Holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama. By opening dialogue between different people, we are able to learn about each other and bridge our differences peacefully without having to resort to stereotyping to fill the cloudy spaces about other cultures, which are ultimately caused by our own ignorance. Instead, we would then be able to clear up the areas of incertitude about other cultures with newly attained knowledge about our respective acquaintances.
If we were able to find a peaceful way to transform violence into art, many problems that occur in the world today could be prevented. This is when the question – “How can art forward the encounter between children from different cultural and religious backgrounds and how can peace ultimately be promoted through art?” came to my attention and became the main focus of my project.

The Solution:

The 100 Doors Project - Brussels
It would seem that ignorance, defiance of personal responsibility, lack of personal motivation and curiosity and absence of dialogue are the clear causes of the majority of the problems regarding violence, hatred and bigotry in the world. Consequently, it would seem sensible to think of a way to create a space for people to talk, share, laugh, and work together on a common goal; an opportunity to create a dialogue and bridge differences by applying all the peaceful ingredients required to avoid disagreement. A space such as this was made possible in Brussels, in late 2004, where an inter-cultural art project, using doors as support for artwork, was originally organized to promote peace and dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli children but then took on huge proportions and involved more than ten schools and organizations from around Belgium. The project took place at the Royal Museums of Fine-arts of Belgium where workshops were held for the children to come and paint. Children would be paired up so that each child would be unfamiliar with his or her partner, enforcing the opening of dialogue. Each pair would then be assigned to a door, which had been provided to the project by different organizations and sponsors. Together, the children would have to examine their door and visualize a way to integrate all its characteristics into the artwork. Since the project would require the sharing of a single territory; awareness, respect and understanding of each other’s values, undertaking personal responsibility in the group, and an honest approach to dialogue would all be crucial for the success of the activity. The children attended four sessions of workshops to complete the work and all the doors were then exhibited at the Royal Museums of Fine-arts in Brussels. After the great success of the project, the organizers decided to spread the branches of the project further bringing it to three other cities in Belgium, Morocco and Nepal and this is when I began my work as the coordinator of the Khulla Dhoka project here in Nepal.

Khulla Dhoka – Open Doors, Kathmandu, Nepal
Khulla Dhoka is a blend of educational, artistic and creative incentives intended for the young generation of Nepal. Initiated in Europe to open a dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli children, this project was applied in Nepal by Sangeeta Thapa and I, as an answer to the current political situation. The purpose of this project was to provide a space for dialogue between children from different walks of life. By painting doors together, children that would have never met otherwise, were given an opportunity to bridge their differences, share ideas, express those ideas through art and work together towards a common goal. The children were given complete freedom to express themselves thus allowing them to exorcise repressed sorrows, anger and fears through the therapeutic function of art.
The reason this project uses doors as a support is because a door; with its duality - its material but also conceptual qualities – symbolizes the freedom of coming or going, closing in or letting out, rousing feelings of security or oppression, comfort or aggression. It represents the gateway to freedom or imprisonment. Through open doors, dialogues are made possible and through dialogues, come understanding and peace. The door in this project stands as a metaphor—one’s will to share a space, to learn and understand about someone else, one’s will to allow someone into their world. By leaving the door open for someone, we are inviting them to become familiar with us and make it possible for them to bridge their differences with us by stepping through the doorway of acquaintance. The door is a stepping-stone to harmony and should always be left open.

The door painting workshops, for children, were held at NAFA (National Association of Fine Arts, Naxal) and Lincoln School (for the younger children) from January through March, where over 40 doors, windows and hanging curtains were painted over the course of nine workshops. Children from disparate social groups were involved, Tibetan, Nepali, and Western school children, handicapped and deaf children as well as orphans, all came together to bridge their differences, open a peaceful dialogue and dispel each other’s boundaries. The social and cultural stigma vanished during the workshops and this was exactly what I was looking to create, a workspace, free of racism, bigotry, and inter-cultural intolerance where all the children could stand at the same level. Whether this experience promoted peace amongst the children I will never know, but I am happy to have brought joy to their lives by giving them something to look forward to every week for several months.

The product was originally the simple act of bringing the children together but as the project went on, we decided that it would be good to give something back to the children that participated by showing their work through an official display of the artwork. The exhibition was organized on May 5th and all the doors, hanging curtains and windows were presented. The inauguration was held at Dhokaima, Patan Dhoka on the 5th and 6th and the exhibition was then set up at NAFA from May 17th to June 7th. At the end of the exhibitions, all the work will be on sale and the money will then be donated to orphanages and organizations in need. Each participating school and organization, as well as each sponsor, will be given a door. The rest will be sold, or if not sold, given away. The product ended up taking much more time and effort than expected and resulted in a lot of money being spent, but in the end, I must admit I am extremely happy to have gone ahead with the idea and recognize the exhibition as a great success.
In order to finance my project, it was essential for me to find sponsors. For this, I focused on the European Commission that was willing to support the exhibition part of the project, Asian Paints that agreed to supply all the paints necessary for the workshops and Bhat-Bhateni super market that provided all the doors used for the project, along with Phora Durbar, that provided several additional doors. In order to obtain all the sponsors, it was required that I meet with all of them in advance to give them a general over-view of the project as well as an offer, in which they would be interested. I guaranteed that they would all be represented during the exhibition and in any document relating the project. Getting the sponsors and dealing with the financial aspect of the project proved to be much more complicated than I thought as changes occurred during the course of the project and the political situation made it difficult to arrange meetings. This process took a rather extended period of time and arranging meetings to suit all the people involved is not always easy. I always had the feeling that people would not take me seriously because of the fact that I am a seventeen-year-old student and that I did not have the experience. Due to this lack of confidence in myself, it was difficult for me to engage myself in professional financial discussions and other similar matters, however, once over with, successfully obtaining support for the project was a great relief and turned out well.

Organizing a project such as Khulla Dhoka definitely does not come easy for an amateur like me, however thanks to the very generous support of my parents, I was able to stay on task and endure the lengthy process of such a commitment. In order to set the venues for the project, several initiatives had to be taken such as arrange and attend meetings with the people in charge of both Dhokaima, where the first inauguration took place, and NAFA (National Association of Fine Arts), where the exhibition stands now since May 17th. Again, my amateur status in the world of art may have come as a surprise to the managers of the sites, but despite my young age, I was able to reach an agreement and find the key to satisfying the hosts with publicity and commercial appeal. Along with arranging the venues of the project, it was important that the exhibition was advertised in order to create public awareness. For this part of the procedure, I made sure to contact as many of the media as I could. The ones that I was able to reach with my press release, which was a short document summarizing the project, were The Kathmandu Post, The Himalayan Times, ECS and The Nepali Times. Journalists from all of these newspapers attended either the workshops or the exhibition and kindly included the Khulla Dhoka project in their publications. In addition to contacting the media, it was also important that posters were put up around town in order to reach as many people as possible. A total of 10,000 rupees were set aside to make the posters and invitations, which was enough to cover the printing costs for 100 posters and 250 invitations.
It is one thing to advertise and decide on venues but it is another to actually host an exhibition. There are many things that are involved in setting up an exhibition that people usually take for granted when attending a display of artwork. One of these granted features is the sound system. Fortunately, thanks to my good friend Shyam Nepali, the sarangi player from the locally known group, Sukarma, this was something I did not have to worry about as he took full responsibility for providing a reliable and reasonably-priced sound system for the night of the inauguration at Dhokaima, for which 6,000 rupees were set aside. In addition to the sound system, the work that comes most unnoticed during an exhibition is the transport and manpower that has been put into carrying the artwork. When it comes to doors, the process of transporting them around town is definitely not an easy task and takes more than one person to do so. In order to bring all the doors from NAFA, where the doors were painted, to Dhokaima, and back, a squad of 6 men (including me) and a pick-up truck were required. We carried the 26 doors down the three stories of the National Association of Fine Arts and set them into the truck to finally unload them at Dhokaima for the inauguration. This lengthy and exhausting process (one way) took over 3 hours to complete and constituted 9,000 rupees of the budget. An additional 17,000 rupees to cover the rent of the venue, the welcome drinks and snacks and any materials used to set up the exhibition, made up the rest of the finances (See Appendix A). These expenses are only the ones related to the exhibition; there is a separate budget for the general expenses of the workshop part of the project.

Expert Interviews
In addition to the workshops, and the sponsors I also conducted interviews to help profound my understanding of art by hearing from individuals involved in the domain of art professionally. The first person I interviewed was Ms. Celia Washington, who is a professional American artist and who also participated in the project. The second person I interviewed was Genevieve Bloomfield, the wife of the current British ambassador to Nepal as she is an art historian and an art teacher at the Art Institute of Baktapur. These interviews allowed me to understand more on my subject and on the role of art in society both through history and in modern times as well as the role of art in political issues.


How can art forward the encounter between children from different cultural and religious backgrounds and how can peace ultimately be promoted through art? The answer lies in every individual’s own imagination. Art is undeniably a universal language spoken by all sentient beings. We are not all fluent, but we all naturally possess the basic and essential ingredient of this incredibly vast style of expression: imagination. Imagination is the key to art, being able to see outside the box, to think beyond reality, to appreciate something simply for what it is, or for what it is not, or simply to recognize something as art; a quality we have all been gifted with since birth. The presence of imagination in any individual offers an open door to the complex yet simple language of art and provides them with the key to the peaceful encounter with others and therefore it is reasonable to conclude that art does indeed help create a positive atmosphere for children and creates a space for them to bridge their differences peacefully while sharing a common territory.
It is difficult to measure the subjective results of such a project as it would seem unreal to ask a young boy or girl to evaluate himself on his or her personal development and their opinion of their partner over the course of such a project. However, despite the difficulty in obtaining tangible results from the children, the success of Khulla Dhoka was unquestionable as the smiles on the children’s faces while they painted, their curious and friendly nature towards each other and the enthusiasm with which they attended the workshops were worth a million words.
As we then look back at the causes of violence, hatred and bigotry in the world (ignorance, defiance of personal responsibility, lack of personal motivation and curiosity and absence of dialogue), it can be deduced that art projects such the 100 Doors Project in Brussels and the Khulla Dhoka project here, in Kathmandu, Nepal are very positive approaches for promoting peace and understanding amongst the children of our planet and therefore if all children had the possibility to participate in such projects, there would undoubtedly be less violence in the world, as the lies, the myths, and the stereotypes about each other’s cultures would be replaced by the appreciation of our differences and our essential sameness.