Safal Gurung: Mocking for a better future
Safal Gurung was a natural artistic kid at school, but he was rather known for his notoriety of sketching cartoon characters of his teachers. His drawing of past have led him to trouble, but his bigger fear lies in his satirical honest deception of current affairs such as politics and human rights.
By Abish Shakya
Cartoons by Safal Gurung
Safal Gurung was raised by his German foster parents because his father died while he was three years old and his mother was not able to raise him on her own. He grew up in a boarding school in Bangalore where he faced discrimination for being an outsider. Despite switching schools to make things easier, he never settled. He became rather unpopular for his naughty behaviors, making him a prime target of his teachers and received plenty of beatings. This led him to run away from school and never complete his school education.
For daily bread, he earned his diploma in cooking where he specialized in bakery and confectionary. He worked as a cook, and as of recent, worked in a monastery as a cook, caretaker, and watchman. However, he faced plenty of hardship as he did not get paid for two years of his service. He didn’t have the right people around him to guide him with life which forced him into doing odd jobs and becoming a drug user in the past. His addiction put him in a limbo for some nine pain-stricken years, but he has been clean for the past six years.
“Gurung has not made his work available for public viewing because he fears that sharing his drawing, which ridicule national and international personalities and corporations, might land him into great trouble.”
He always had an affinity with drawing and his mother says Gurung drew on the floor as a toddler. While working as a cook, he drew whenever he had the free time on whatever he got hold of—from newspapers, tissue papers to cigarettes. It was about three years ago that Gurung came across a video of cartoonist Rajesh KC of Phalano which inspired him to become a cartoonist and take it more than just a hobby. He has since then met a few people who believe in him and have provided him with guidance. However, his family has not been supportive of him and do not believe that one can make a living off of making cartoons.
In all the loneliness he faced, he became a dreamer. Being lonely, he was able to look into the world and see the prevalence of social problems. He traveler around, met people, learned their stories; and in his words, while traveling in India, he met a tempo driver who had his doctors license in his driver’s compartment. Gurung could relate this with Nepali girls being trafficked or the thousands of Nepalis leaving for the Middle East for jobs which he portrays in his drawings with Nepalis being traded for cash or lining up for the 3D jobs: dangers, dirty, and difficult. Gurung says, “There’s a lot of bad news, but it is important to deliver a message in such a way that you can still have a laugh about it.”
Though without formal education, he reads news and articles extensively and is well aware of the current affairs in the world. This has to lead him to make sketches regarding issues such as inequality, animal rights, corruption, class-division, press freedom and some specific world topics such as Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, airstrikes in Syria, tensions in the Korea peninsula, and gun violence in the US. One of the turning points in his life was the attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo which portrayed controversial topics with humor. Gurung recalls, “It angered me and made me feel as if it was an attack on me. I aspire to do what Charlie Hebdo has done—sketch serious issues with humor and satire.”
Gurung has not made his work available for public viewing because he fears that sharing his drawing, which ridicules national and international personalities and corporations, might land him into great trouble. When asked why he draws about severe issues, he replies, “I believe in a well-informed democracy and freedom of speech. I have to speak up against corruption which is the enemy of capitalism. The truth and thoughts must always be transparent.”
“I believe in a well-informed democracy and freedom of speech. I have to speak up against corruption which is the enemy of capitalism. The truth and thoughts must always be transparent.” —Safal Gurung
Despite the hard life he has endured, he has not made sketches about his own life. When asked why, Gurung replied, “I’ve suffered as an individual but others have collectively suffered more. The problems of the world are mighty bigger than mine.”
Since he has not had formal art lessons, Gurung does believe that going for art classes could further improve his skills. He is determined to become one of the best cartoonists in Nepal. “Professional artists might say that my art is not good enough, but for me the idea is important. Cavemen drew in caves which might not have been neat and tidy but they were artistic and the stories they tell intrigue us. I hope that my drawings will make someone laugh, anger others but more than anything else, make people take a pause from their busy life and think about the important things.”