02/18/2016 14:19 EST | Updated 02/18/2017 00:12 EST

Canadian artist and wife paint mural to raise awareness of garbage crisis in India

The mural overlooking a busy market in the northern Indian city of Dehradun shows the face of a young child peering over a wall, along with an ominous message.

"The greatest risk to our planet is thinking someone else will save it," it reads in big block letters.

The painting, completed earlier this week, is the work of You Only Always, a street art duo made up of Canadian artist Pan Trinity Das and his American wife Kyrie Maezumi.  

The pair, who travel the world creating what they describe as "spiritual pop art," said the piece aims to raise awareness of India's mounting garbage crisis and took more than two days to finish.

"It's geared towards making people feel responsible for themselves," Maezumi, 37, said in a phone interview from Dehradun.

"The garbage problem in India is kind of unbelievable... it's just something that people need to become aware of," she said. "Hopefully it will help make a difference."

She acknowledged, however, that there's only so much people can do without the proper infrastructure in place.

"A lot of it is more of a fail on a government level," she said. "You can talk to people about recycling and all the things that are happening because of the pollution but they don't have a recycling facility, they don't have a trash truck that comes and picks up their garbage."

That's why reducing waste is a key part of their message, said Das, 30, of Peterborough, Ont.

Studies suggest that urban India generates as much as 68 million tons of waste per year.

Das and Maezumi are working with the non-profit organization Waste Warriors, which promotes and provides sustainable waste management.

The mural takes up the outside wall of Waste Warriors' headquarters in the middle-class Jakhan neighbourhood. Two more are in the works in other locations.

The couple's efforts earlier this week drew attention from many locals, including a group of school children who later posed for photos in front of the completed painting.

Das said they are now working on a "small Dehradun-style MTV hip-hop video" with the kids.

"It was so beautiful to see that this younger generation is really grasping the idea that recycling is awesome and it needs to happen," he said. 

The pair, who is based in Nevada City, Calif., will soon move on to other projects, including collaborations with a water commission in the Indian town of Jaipur and an orphanage in Bali, Indonesia.

They will be in Toronto in July and hope to work with Students for a Free Tibet Canada.


Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press