Sneha Shrestha (aka IMAGINE) is a Nepali artist, currently residing in Boston as one of the city’s Artists in Residence for 2018. Her work harnesses the vibrant energy of street art and mixes it with the more structured, angled lines of Sanskrit words and characters, often structured as mantras, literally and figuratively representing feelings and ideas.
Beyond the time she spends as an artist, Shrestha focuses on education and social impact. Earning her masters in arts and education at the Harvard Graduate School for Education, Shrestha leveraged her degree in her home country of Nepal, where she established the first ever Children’s Art Museum — an effort to make creativity accessible to young people, and especially those like herself who may not have the exposure beyond the rote schoolwork presently offered. The venture was prompted by time she spent working for Artists For Humanity, a nonprofit out of South Boston that aims to “bridge economic, racial, and social divisions by providing under-resourced urban youth with the keys to self- sufficiency through paid employment in art and design.”
The term is overused, but there is definitely a “punk rock” component to graffiti. It’s not unusual for the expression to be misconstrued as anti-social, but more often than not it’s the exact opposite. In this case, IMAGINE (her chosen “graffiti artist name”), uses the style to help bring people in to her art and art in general. What’s more accessible than the kind of art you walk by every day? Naturally, she has an Instagram (@imagine876), a community by definition, where she posts not only pictures, but stories. For someone like me who cannot read Sanskrit, there is a context, an invitation to keep looking.
And so when I heard there was an exhibit of her work at the Distillery Gallery in South Boston, IMAGINE’s first solo exhibition in the United States, I jumped at the chance to see so much of it in one place, in person. The show, titled MANTRA: Sneha Shrestha, was on view at the Distillery Gallery from October 6 through October 28.
Inside the gallery, there are rich, colorful works that are inviting and not so subtle. For example, the piece Saya Patri has an almost neon purple background with rich, orange characters forming a U shape. I don’t have the direct translation, but a sayaptri flower is also known as a marigold, and in a way it’s like the art is smiling at you — sunshine on a cloudy day. It’s not uncommon for IMAGINE to shape her phrases into physical shapes that further the message.
But then there are some works, such as the Manuscript series, that are simple — black airink on a toothy, Nepali homemade paper. These seemed more somber. While the text was somewhat shaped, it was not as evident, and with more whitespace in the picture it had a lean quality that was markedly less joyful.
Continuing to explore the room, you’ll find that same stark black text, more slick this time, on reflective gold paper. Depending on how you look at it, it could be there simply to catch your eye, or to reflect the work back at you – to see yourself in the art. For as much accessibility as there is to her larger works on buildings and shipping containers, the smaller paintings encourage a more personal connection. In some ways, the repetition is soothing. Other times, there is an energetic quality to the sharp lines and free-flowing paints.
Some art is abstract, some is more literal. Defined, lexicographical structure on top of painted patterns, dreamed up, IMAGINE draws from both sides, making sure there is something for everybody.
You can find IMAGINE’s work on Instagram and at various installations around the city.