Milan Rai/Photo by K ishor Kayastha

Milan Rai/Photo by Kishor Kayastha

What role will technology and art play in the deeper future? How can we foster spiritual connections in both the virtual and analog world?TEDxBrussels spoke to Milan Rai a ‘creative troublemaker’ now referred to as the 'Butterfly Man'. His handmade cutouts have traveled to over forty countries and have been photographed from Brussels to Kathmandu as a symbol of social change. Milan has been handing White Butterflies across the globe for free to spread a message of peace and transformation. His latest art project explores the relationship between technology and society. Milan  answered a few of our questions about the logic behind his art projects, his vision for a better world and his ideas on the deeper future.

Milan Rai in Patan Durbar Square, Nepal/Photo by Sanoj Byanjankar

Milan Rai in Patan Durbar Square, Nepal/Photo by Sanoj Byanjankar

1/How does your work relate to the TEDxBrussels theme of the "Deeper Future"?

What truly inspires me is the unfathomable depth of creative resurrection and metamorphosis that human beings are capable of.

A lot of people loose the potential to express their authentic feelings, by putting liveliness to pause, nullifying joy and refraining playing. We limit our growth, and yet we call this social normality. Our unique feelings, consciousness and capacity to voice the essence of our being, are addressed by the dictators of different cultures, religions and groups who assert power, yet are apprehensive of outspoken expressions of individuality.

We limit our growth, and yet we call this social normality

Amid this all, there are always some creative troublemakers who refuse to be complacent with those commandments. TEDx accolades the success of those remarkable individuals, honoring all sections of the global community in borderless audacity. In this context, my work interacts with people from all walks of life - tying knots of affection in the process.

My project 'White Butterfly' for instance, was initiated as a personal initiative before undergoing a mercurial transformation and turning into a global phenomenon. This evolution was due to the fact that people found it to be relatable. My handmade cutouts of white butterflies reminded them of the essentially simple things in life that we tend to forget.

When I think of the “deeper future”, I think of a network of like-minded people accentuating radiation within the same wavelength to transform our isolation into a powerful community. Notwithstanding the landscape we ought to travel in, we are all on the same aspiring journey to reach a similar harbour of peace. I believe in working together and in complementing each other.

2/Three factors you believe will shape the deeper future of humanity.

- Be the Change
Albeit we share a same similar space as “Earth mates”, we are in fact living in our very own discrete, individual world. By improving our ‘private kingdom’, we can evolve and progress beyond external restrictions, creating ripple effects, which eventually provide us the tools needed to transform the world around us. I believe in holistic change involving the modification of the self by raising the volume of our own vibrations.

- Never ‘lose’ a dream
The alarm clock wakes us up every morning, and we are often unsatisfied at work. Let’s try something new. Let’s be awakened by the wisdom of our heart, liberating ourselves from the shackles of fear controlling us. That’s how we'll truly have the capacity of following our passion without depleting any dreams.

- Accentuate the power of Love
Undeniably, Love is the ultimate force in the universe; every human being deserves love. Instead of making other people feel inferior, we proved to be more powerful and resilient when reflecting kindness to everyone around us and letting love be the hallmark of our lives. If we follow this path, we’ll have successful individuals with honorable personalities. These forces shall guide the intellect of our heart and contribute to our own blueprint of the deeper future.

Let’s be awakened by the wisdom of our heart, liberating ourselves from the shackles of fear controlling us.

3/What is the motivation behind the white butterfly project and what reactions did you get from people worldwide?

White Butterflies is a nano-scale project that came to life in the small city of Kathmandu and began to exhibit its very own élan vital, travelling a great distance across borders.

There is no particular agenda behind it. I did not initiate this project to inspire people. It was not a movement until the growing force of individuals resorted the initiative into various campaigns and causes. It’s been an exquisitely joyful adventure so far, fueled over the years by the love that sprouts and radiates within, symbolized by white butterflies.

One day, I received a message from Linzi Barbour, who first came across my work through social media. What followed from her very first message was not only a great life-long friendship but also the significant gift of being able to bring white butterflies to her village in Scotland.

Along with her son Jamie, she went on placing butterflies on trees and one day she decided to scribble the letters that made up the name of her departed daughter on the wings of a butterfly. Soon after, the villagers learnt that it was a prayer and a magical way of remembering her dearest daughter on the sixth anniversary of her death. Many were marveled and came to inquire if they could include their names and the names of their dearest ones on white butterflies too. Gradually, people started presenting flowers and prayers at that memorial tree, which has now become a sacred site for this fascinating ritual.

Quoting Linzi :

"From this amazing gesture I’ve seen firsthand, divided villages come together to create a beautiful memorial tree for all their lost loved ones. I’ve seen strangers from so many different backgrounds become friends as they sit down to discuss these butterflies. I’ve also seen the butterflies being used in dementia wards here, to help patients stimulate their long forgotten memories. The greatest gift however has been seeing the expression and reactions of children to the butterflies. Children, who are so used to being surrounded by technology and gadgets becoming so eager to step outside  into nature so that they may also help decorate their towns and villages with the butterflies. All of this has come freely and has been given lovingly from one man." 

I published her heartwarming story on social media and garnered oceans of rapturous admiration; people from all across the globe began requesting White Butterflies for their respective communities. MELD, a global art platform cultivating social change, in collaboration with the municipality of Athens, organized a white butterfly action in Greece to mark the International Day of Peace.

A woman who participated in a White Butterfly Action initiative in Brussels once said that: “The beauty of this project is that an artist is turning everyone into an artist with his stroke of goodness, beauty and wonder.”

White Butterflies in Peru

White Butterflies in Peru

Another exquisite moment occurred at a military camp in Dubai. Australian troops brought White Butterflies into their heavily guarded camp and started spreading and sending love messages to their families. One of the lieutenants sent me a handwritten letter that reads: "Thank you for teaching us to see the good through the bad."

It has truly been both a humbling and phenomenal experience to see my work being spread in so many countries. I went from living tucked away in a small town in Nepal to travelling the world. My heart is filled with happiness and love for the people I have met; I am yet to meet and might never meet around this planet. Every individual involved in the project emerged as a vital pollinator, forging a focal point and mking this positive energy contagious.  

Thank you for teaching us to see the good through the bad.

4/Your recent art installation involved projecting a Facebook interface on a big screen around the city of Kathmandu. What emotions and thoughts did you want to trigger in passersby?

In my recent multimedia installation, I am projecting my Facebook status and updates in public spaces - halls, corridors, buildings and sidewalks - around Kathmandu. My objective is to bridge the disparaging gap between the cyber world and society at large by forging live connections between passersby and the virtual audience.

Our cities need more art and poetic expressions. In the world we are living in, it’s a fairly common sight to find ourselves constantly glued on tech gizmos and smart phones. We are plugged into a constant stream of connections. Despite the notable benefits of information technology, we could become more vigilant of the little magic and miracles that occur in our daily lives only by looking up beyond those few-inches screens and extend our attention radius.

Unquestionably, the Internet is a powerful tool. As a member of the Millennial Generation myself, I yield countless benefits from the instrument, but it's undeniable that we are irresponsibly indulging in the excess of it.

In this context, my project is designed to assert social media in a constructive fashion. It's easy for some people to sit before their computer screens - anonymously typing corrosive remarks. Instead, we can come together albeit the differences in opinion, listen to each other, share positive messages and gratify powerful dreams in view of the challenges ahead.

Despite being surrounded by wireless technology, we must try to prohibit ourselves from being fully dependent on it and losing our spiritual connections. We are currently living in the most significant era of progress, empowered by rapid technological advancement and fueled by oceans of accessible information; but are we truly driven by knowledge and are we cognizant of the content we consume on the Internet? Are we actually sharing, authentic, unbiased information? If we do, we’ll have all we need to accomplish amazing milestones, explore new worlds, share new ideas, strengthen our bonds and be the ultimate agents of change. The upcoming inventions shall always be powerful and revolutionary ones, if we decide to keep on fostering sincerity and wisdom as we strive to make a difference. 

5/If you could travel in time what kind of art would you make in 2200?

I reckon that art shall be pricelessly invaluable in the deeper future. Based on my personal discernment of the human race today, we favour logical astuteness rather than the heart's intellect. We should find a well-proportioned equilibrium for us to make the most out of ourselves. This imbalance shall eventually cause much havoc in future generations, further deteriorating in the velocity of time and the demanding nature of the world people are made to live in. This is when the voraciously honest expression of art shall expose society to its own panacea.

Emotions are intangible for many and my practice will be all about letting the heart and mind collide into a single entity, and see what can actually be done when such a powerful miracle occurs...

The upcoming inventions shall always be powerful and revolutionary ones, if we decide to keep on fostering sincerity and wisdom as we strive to make a difference.

What do you think of the White Butterfly project and of Milan's vision of the deeper future? Share your views in the comments sections below.

Photo by Sanoj Byanjankar

Photo by Sanoj Byanjankar