is a self-taught Nepalese contemporary visual artist whose work is grounded in a personal response to the world around him. A self-described failure in school
, Milan's inquiry of the world has found artistic expression in a variety of mediums.
For Milan, the world is his studio and butterflies his medium. A moment of serendipity set him on his path
. Inspired by a butterfly that alighted on his paintbrush in the middle of a challenging project in 2013, Rai began cutting out simple white butterfly shapes from paper and thoughtfully arranging and affixing them to surfaces in his hometown of Kathmandu -- including on trees, bridge pillars, walls, and dilapidated buildings.
Wanting to make art accessible to everyone and not to limit it within the walls of galleries, "I thought that this time the uninvited would be my guests, and I started putting white butterflies in public spaces in the city, like billboards and trees," Milan says
The visual effect was breathtaking and often profound. As he puts it, "Such simple shapes can convey so much: peace, transformation, freedom, hope, whimsy....or whatever the viewer wishes."
His current signature work, the White Butterfly
, started as a simple project in his studio and has evolved into a powerful symbol of global expression, inviting change and interaction in more than 40 different countries across the globe. “What truly inspires me is the unfathomable depth of creative resurrection and metamorphosis that human beings are capable of...My handmade cutouts of white butterflies remind people of the essentially simple things in life that we tend to forget."
Rai also aims to remind people of who they really are. “I wanted my butterflies to ignite the long-forgotten passions, burn the desires alight again in hearts, destroy the walls people build around them and in doing so, I wanted them to free themselves. Just like the butterflies who break out of the cocoon, I wanted them to break the boundaries they created around themselves and open their hearts to life and the limitless possibilities it can garner once we decide to so. I am imagining a butterfly world
In addition to inspiring personal transformation of his viewers, Rai has used the butterflies to bring attention to social needs. When the earthquake hit Nepal in 2015, killing and displacing thousands, Rai felt fortunate to be alive and to have a house that was still standing. He used white butterflies and social media
to make people aware of the dire need for emergency shelter and sanitation in the area, which he helped build. Rai has also recently staged a symbolic protest
in Kathmandu to draw attention to the problem of pollution, and his most recent work involves multimedia installations that aim to bridge
the virtual, cyber world of technology and the physical, natural world.
Milan's other forms of expression include painting, performance art, and installations. He began his career with an exhibition at Patna University’s College of Arts. Upon receiving an award in India for his oil painting entitled “LIGHT,” he did his first solo exhibition at Park Gallery in 2007. He is the recipient of the 2016 Harvard (SAI) Visiting Artist Award.
Behind all his work is the firm belief that art can change the way we perceive the world around us and help to shape the choices we make. Art can challenge us as individuals and as a community to examine significant issues of our times and inspire us to take action.
Join us in conversation with this visionary artist!