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Visiting Artist Milan Rai’s White Butterflies installation on the spiral staircase of CGIS South


Milan Rai is a Nepali artist whose media span painting, installation, and artistic intervention. Rai came to The Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, Harvard University, in Spring 2016 as part of the Visiting Artist Fellowship (VAF). You can read more about Milan’s work here.

The application deadline for the 2018-2019 Mittal Institute Visiting Artist Fellowship is July 16th, 2018. Read more about the fellowship and how to apply here.


How was your experience as a Visiting Artist at the Mittal Institute?

In 2016, the Visiting Artist Fellowship was ten days long and a unique experience. I had the opportunity to install my White Butterflies project in the beautiful spiral staircase in the Center for Government and International Studies (CGIS). While at Harvard, I attended classes, including a course on Muslim Literature and one on Buddhism at the Harvard Divinity School. Some other highlights of my time at Harvard include conversing with fascinating people and spending time engaging with the incredible campus flora.


Has attending the VAF at The Mittal Institute influenced your art practice?

The VAF inspired me to apply to more art residencies and fellowships. I had realized the potential of such programs and the impact they have on my art practice. Therefore, I kept applying! Despite receiving both acceptance and rejection letters, the VAF helped me to become more confident and determined.

After returning from the VAF, I also noticed a shift in people’s perception of me. People in Kathmandu were curious about how a high school dropout could make it to Harvard! I began to receive invitations to speak about my work at colleges and universities, which was a powerful platform for me to tell my story to young people.  


Catch us up on what you have been doing since your visit at Harvard.

Currently, I am working on a project about air pollution in Kathmandu.  I started to wear gas masks to protests and eventually made my way into government buildings where the masks became a way to start important conversations. My goal with this project is to see an impact on policy implementation. For this project, I have assumed the role of a activist and have incorporated social media to tell the evolving story of this artwork. One outcome of this project is that we are now in the planning phases of creating a public green space in Kathmandu and Lalitpur.

I am also working on another project related to tree guards in the Bouddha area. Currently, the tree guards are used primarily as surfaces for commercial advertisements. My goal is to design aesthetically pleasing sculptures that tell the personal narratives of people living in the city in order to beautify and humanize this public space.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.