Artist and art activist Ricky Lee Gordon aka Freddy Sam and writer Megan King are on a four-month adventure across foreign lands, working with local organizations in public mural art in cities. First stop: Nepal!

Guest feature by street artist Freddy Sam: The Colour Project goes to Nepal.

Artist and art activist Ricky Lee Gordon (aka Freddy Sam) and writer Megan King are on a four-month adventure across foreign lands, working with local organizations in public mural art in cities. First stop: Nepal!
Photos & text: Ricky Lee Gordon / Megan King

The beautiful world of colour.

We have come to the other side of our world to ask questions about how people are influenced by their physical environments, and if the conditions of your environment really have any worthy effect on your state of being, especially in schools. Our current adventure is directed at the beautiful world of colour, with the goal of finding inspiring places and investigating the importance of these environments to the people and communities that use them. There is a growing body of evidence from some of the world’s leading minds that schools need a serious revamp. We are interested in how one’s environment can have an influence on motivation, inspiration and creativity in students.

We are calling it “The Colour Project” and our expedition will be documented through film and writing. We are off to exciting lands to dive into the beautiful world of colour!

Ricky and Megan with a Tibetan monk.

When we return from the world outside, we will begin phase two; collaborating with students at Ikamva Youth in painting an entire high school in rural South Africa.

A holy man in tradition garments.

Chaos and serenity.

I (Freddy Sam) am an artist and do most of the painting, while Megan, my love, best friend and fellow art activist writes and soaks up the food, culture and colours of our new and unfamiliar way of life. Enter Megan:

The first thing you need to do when stepping foot into the heart of Kathmandu Valley is to abandon any preconceived ideas of personal space hygiene. The next practical move is to adapt your senses to an uneasy blend of wild smells and relentless hooting that is likely to pierce bewildered hearts. Slowly, as your mind begins acclimatising to your new surroundings, you will ease into riding the sensory tidal wave of chaos and serenity.

Intricate details at Kathmandu Valley.

Bright colours and painted deities.

Kathmandu Valley: a glorious mixture of timeless architecture and modern day demands. A mass of power lines that seem to lead to a single source hang like sunken bridges across the sky. It’s the city of strays and the land of the humble. And of course, the city buses. Baptised with names like “Hero of the Road” and “King of the Speed Limit” and adorned with bright colours, painted deities and intricate details, they truly are the type of means of transportation Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters would be proud of. On the other hand, no sign of any kind of traffic light or road sign, most of the roads don’t have lanes and the car horn is the only governing law of the road. But we’re still alive to tell the tale!

A man selling fruit from his bicycle.

We spend a peaceful day floating within the walls of Bhaktapur, known as the “City of Devotees”. The city is one of the most beautiful in the Valley, and offers an authentic experience of Nepalese culture. Our tour guides for the day are the sweetest pair of 12-year-old boys, keeping us very well informed about any important sightings. “Sitting there,” one of the boys explained, “is a cat.” “And over there is a dog. A Nepalese dog,” he says and points to one of the sleeping strays. In terms of architectural facts, they explain with authority that the five-storied temple got its name precisely because of its five stories. Our western view may seem romanticised, but Nepal is truly a deeply spiritual place. At all points of the city, colourful Buddhist flags hang off trees and rooftops like the remnants of a carnival the night before. Inside the temples you will always find Buddha decorated in golden cloth and luminous pigments smudged over his smiling face. People are in constant movement, rushing in every direction, and yet they never fail to pause a moment and offer a prayer whenever they come across a statue of Buddha or Shiva.

The main square in Kathmandu.

Groups of men and women gather around larger temples to light candles, mark their foreheads for luck, and spend long afternoons in conversation. You can see the holy man dressed in brilliant orange and his beard is thick and grey.

Freddy Sam's colour on he streets of Kathmandu.

Street Life.

And the street life: rich and vibrant, early evenings are carnivals of balancing bamboo and the lighting of hundreds of candles to the god Shiva. Women wash their hair in the courtyards. Fire-burning stoves set on the streets offer anything from popcorn to whole chicken, deep-fried bread and chilly sweets. (The cow is sacred and substituted for their less fortunate relatives, the water buffalo.) By day 18, we relinquish our commitment to not eat meat or drink alcohol. Tucked away not very far from the main square, you will find a little strip of shops and restaurant called “Freak Street”. Here you can observe the cool of Kathmandu, spiky-haired Nepalese youth in hookah bars, as well as western hippies with shining eyes scattered on cushions in the street. As we sit on one of said cushions, a local passes by repeating these lines until they induce in him a fit of laughter: “You can check out any time, but you can never leave!”

To Pokhara.

By this time, we have begun to yearn for the storied Himalayan peaks and other natural beauty, so we check out accordingly and do, in fact, leave. The lakeside town of Pokhara promises to be our respite. As we approach the last ten kilometres of a nine-hour bus ride spent in sweet anticipation, the journey leading to our land of milk and honey is interrupted. Locals have used a tractor and stones to block the road and an impromptu strike ensues. Luggage in hand, we trek on. It takes a canoe ride to the other side of the lake for all the postcards of glowing ice-capped peaks to finally make sense. To our left we see the juicy jungle forests, born out of monsoons, and finally on the right, the mystical snowy peaks of the Annapurna Himalayan range.

Birgt walls, bright clothes.

And there we float, finally able to orientate ourselves between the two. In the evening, when it is cool enough to go back outside, the paths are lit by fireflies, and the days of dizzying heat are relieved by the monsoon nights.

Hospitality and kindness.

Despite the temperatures, we decide to paraglide off Sarangkot, even though the threat of nausea flies with us most of the way. Up in the sky you can see the water buffalo wallowing in the lake.

My favourite part of Nepal so far is definitely to experience the people who are friendly, curious and eager to share their culture. I am humbled by their hospitality and kindness. Whether we were staying in shoddy guesthouses or smiling our way to use the pool at swankier establishments, we always felt like honoured guests.

Business is no more than a compartment in the wall.

Up next: we return to Kathmandu for interviews with a monk about the role of colour and the environment in Buddhism, a local artist about using natural pigments, the colours and what they represent, and finally a visit to the local truck depot to talk with the drivers about why they decorate their vehicles the way they do.

Ricky painting with the kids.

And so our trip continues: we are just about to head off on a three day tea house trek before travelling to Istanbul, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and beyond. We are very excited, and happy to have you along for the ride, so join us and stay updated on mb! on Facebook.

Please follow and share our journey as we inspire ourselves to inspire others.

Information on the project and the artist: 


Freddy Sam:

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