One of a kind coloring book

Anushka Nepal

Anushka Nepal

One of a kind coloring book

Published on Oct 2022 by FinePrint, ‘Overlooked Faces of Nepal’ is a Mandala and Mithila art inspired contemporary coloring book for all ages. But it’s also a book that aims to generate awareness about the LGBTIQA+ community and help our society understand and accept people regardless of their gender identities. The artists, Dr Paridhi Sharma and Dr Arpana Pathak, have combined Mandala and Mithila artwork with illustrations that reflect the circumstances of people from the LGBTIQA+ community. 

The patterns used in Mandala art are clinically certified to relieve anxiety, reduce stress, and induce sleep, which is the main reason why they decided to focus on it. “We wanted to create a book that was therapeutic. We also wanted it to entertain and educate,” says Sharma. The LGBTIQA+ community, they say, has to go through unimaginable hardships and trauma so they wanted the book to be of some catharsis. It could, they thought, be a good way of relieving stress as well. 

The concept of the book took shape in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic, when Sharma and Pathak both resorted to their hobby of sketching as a way of releasing stress and pent up emotions. Although they were both good at art since their childhoods, they say that giving continuity to that hobby became impossible in the later years. But with Covid-19 lockdown, the timing was perfect to revive their skills. 

“We had no intention of publishing a book. We were just looking for a distraction during that overwhelming period,” says Sharma. Since they were already working on so many illustrations, turning that collection of artworks into a coloring book seemed like a good idea. “It was nothing but a thought. We wanted to share it with our family before proceeding,” adds Pathak, “And I am glad we did.” 

It was initially just a collection of Mandala and Mithila artwork but Krishna Dhungana, Sharma’s husband and the conceptualizer of the book, suggested they use their skill to do something that had never been done before. They could turn the book into more than just another coloring book by incorporating and highlighting an important social issue. 

“Our inspiration for the theme was the life story of a close friend of his,” says Pathak. His friend, a lesbian, fell in love with a woman and wanted to get married. But her family was and still is reluctant to accept that. “They both got together in the US, but have been deprived of the love and support a straight man and a woman would get during their marriage,” says Sharma. 

Their story, Pathak says, was heartbreaking. But there are many others going through similar struggles. “As two straight women, we were far from understanding the pain they had to endure,” she says, although they both knew the gist of it. But just one life story was not enough to inspire their illustrations. “We needed to talk to more people in order to know how we could reflect their struggles through our artwork,” she adds. 

The duo first reached out to the organizations that worked for LGBTIQA+ communities. But sadly no one seemed interested in what they were planning to do. “It was understandable since all we had was a concept,” says Sharma, “Trusting us must have been difficult.” Luckily, they were able to get in touch with Samaira Shestha, a transwoman, through a make-up artist Sujata Neupane. “We heard her story and it was just the push we needed to bring our idea to life. It felt important,” says Pathak.

They met around 30-40 people from the community. “There were days when we would sob our way back home after hearing their stories,” says Pathak. They had help from Shrestha, as well as Malvika Subba and Lex Limbu, the two advisors for their book, who connected them with people willing to share their stories. 

The aim of this research was to identify the common struggle that everyone in the community faced, which mostly turned out to be the transition phase during their adolescence. “Everyone we talked to had struggled with the change in sexual orientation, identity crisis, and acceptance during that phase,” says Sharma, and that is exactly what Sharma and Pathak have tried to depict through their artwork. 

Some of the illustrations in the book have beautifully captured the love between two individuals regardless of their gender. “We hope that this book helps initiate a conversation, and help our society understand the LGBTIQA+ community,” says Pathak. More than that, Sharma says she wishes to see their book included in the Nepali curriculum. “My hope from this is that children will be able to freely express who they are, and have a positive outlook on the LGBTIQA+ communities,” she says.

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