From Scrap to Sculpture: A Nepali Artist’s Call to Action for Waste Reduction

Shyamanand Singh crafts sculptures from discarded paper, bottle caps and other materials. He’s opened a free museum in his house to inspire others.

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From Scrap to Sculpture: A Nepali Artist’s Call to Action for Waste Reduction

Amrita Jaisi, GPJ Nepal

Shyamanand Singh holds up one of his creations, a bird in a cage made from discarded plastic and paper, at his home and art museum.

NEPALGUNJ, NEPAL — For the past 13 years, Shyamanand Singh had made handicrafts from discarded cardboard boxes, old books, used notebooks, newspapers, sticks, foam sheets, bottles and plastic caps. “If sculptures can be made from clay, why can’t they be made of paper or other waste material?” Singh says.

A retired telecommunications worker, Singh has loved art from childhood and dabbled in painting throughout his youth and adult life. After retirement, his interest in art converged with his concern for environmental issues, leading him to create an impressive repertoire of sculptures and handicrafts from waste material. Now, he has turned three rooms in his house into a museum, filling them with his art. The museum is open to the public and admission is free. “I made the museum in my home because if I had to rent a space, how would I be able to let people enjoy the art for free?”

The artist procures all his raw materials from scrap dealers. He makes regular trips for cartons, cardboard, plastic bottle caps and whatever else catches his fancy. “When I am there, I consider myself a scrap collector. I also wonder if they believe I am an artist?” he says, laughing. His interest in scrap is now so well known that the government office where he worked for 25 years also sends him waste materials. “They know I will make art from it,” he says.

Prakash DC, environmental engineer for Nepalgunj, says 30 to 35 tons of garbage are produced in the city every day. “About 25 tons of waste end up in the landfills,” he says, adding that the collected waste is only partially recycled.

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Amrita Jaisi, GPJ Nepal

Shyamanand Singh makes regular trips to scrap dealers to procure raw materials for his handicrafts and sculptures. He’s made deities, popular monuments, birds and other animals by repurposing discarded paper and plastic.

Singh, 69, hopes that his art will help people to be more mindful about dumping waste indiscriminately and to seriously consider recycling — and not only in the conventional sense. “These plastic bottle caps you see in my bag might look small and useless now. But put them together, they form a shape, take a form,” he says.

Mastering these sculptures wasn’t easy, but Singh says he has been committed to perfecting his art skills since he was a child. “By the time I was in the ninth grade, I was already good at painting. When I attempted to make a sculpture with paper, I failed. But I kept trying, and after a few months I made the idol of the Hindu deity Ganesha using paper,” he says.

A resident of the city of Nepalgunj, in the Banke district of Nepal’s Lumbini province, Singh has participated in quite a few art exhibitions. In 2022, Nepalgunj provided a space for him to exhibit his work at the city’s popular Bageshwari temple complex.

However, he would like to have government support in setting up a proper museum where more people could access his art and be inspired to take up similar environmentally friendly hobbies.

“I wish every child and adult could see this art. In the rooms of my own house, not everything is easily visible. Due to the paucity of space, I have had to stuff too many things into small nooks and corners. As a result, a lot of the interesting work has gotten hidden behind other, bigger handicraft. I have created art that appeals to every religion, culture and country. More people should be able to see it,” he says.

Amrita Jaisi, GPJ Nepal

Shyamanand Singh has turned three rooms in his home into an art museum that people can visit for free.

Several months ago, Singh rented a room nearby and displayed some of his work there. However, he fell sick and it became difficult to manage the space and take care of the art. He shut it down.

“There are now thousands of small works of art here,” Singh says, waving at the room chock-full of paintings and sculptures. “Not only do I not have a lot of space, I need to protect all the work from moisture and water. If I had enough resources, I would have kept them inside glass boxes.”

Singh used to train organizations across Nepal on ways to recycle waste materials. Illness led him to stop that too. He was diagnosed with colon cancer earlier this year and though he worked through the early months following the diagnosis, he had to take a break to recuperate. He now worries about preserving the hundreds of crafts he has made over the past decade.

“Sometimes I feel like I didn’t even realize how time flew while I was engrossed in art. I almost didn’t realize how old I have become and it feels like a lifetime that I have been doing this,” Singh says. He points at replicas of the famous Ramnath and Kedarnath temples and says that he made them in the early days of the diagnosis.

Singh wants people to understand that if they look at the items they throw away daily with an intention to reuse them, they will find art in them. “All you have to do is put your mind to it, and this paper can become a sculpture, a flower or any artwork,” he says.

Amrita Jaisi is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Nepal.


Sunil Pokhrel, GPJ, translated this article from Nepali.

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