Could India be any more colourful?
In the last 3-5 years street art and urban projects have been hitting the streets in India’s metro cities, and there’s no hiding away from them. There has always been writing on the wall, advertising, colours, letters, pictures and images, but there’s been a recent new movement of cool funky works of art similar to what we see in cities such as New York, Hong Kong, Berlin and Melbourne around the country. In 2014 I attended a Street Art and Urban Creativity International Conference in Lisbon (click here for blog post), and noticed that there was no content or mention of any such work in India, so I decided to make it part of my mission to check it out for myself as part of my research into arts and the creative industries in India. For years travellers have been visiting and returning to this crazy country, hippies and all. Some graffiti artists have regularly returned and left their mark here. Bond from Germany is one of them, who has visited numerous times over the last 10 years and cleverly leaves his name somewhere for the world to admire and see.
St.Art Festival and Foundation
In recent years India has taken charge of it’s walls and the team at St.Art Festival are making sure that India’s cities such as Mumbai and Delhi are on the global graffiti map. Last month I paid the team a visit in their Hauz Khas offices in Delhi. Arjun Bahl and Aakash Nihalani were at their desks, phone in one hand, cigarette in the other, laptops in front of them, calls and messages constantly coming through whilst they talked me through the development of street art in India, the present and future. The 2015 St.Art is happening during my visit. Bad timing but very sweet they squeeze me in for a chat. These guys are the co-founders and directors of the festival; young, cool, articulate, energetic, passionate…and crazy! The entire team has other commitments and income streams, but this is what they love and they will continue to do even though they are barely breaking even. They believe that this is what young India wants and needs to see and have in their cities. The festival has been inviting world-renowned street artists from all corners of the world including Tokyo, Portugal, Brazil, China, Poland and more to visit the country and create a piece of art, often with a project attached to it. They are attracting global media coverage and within just a few years have put India on the world map for Street Art. What attracts my attention are works with a national or local touch; the Indian touch.
Arjun plays me the video that features india’s tallest mural of Gandhi on the Delhi Police Headquarters building. Hendrik Beikirch from Germany worked on the design and completed the work, and what an achievement for the guys to collaborate with the government and realise a dream celebrating a national figure. Secondly there’s ‘Phalke’in Mumbai, at 120 x 150 feet it’s the largest mural in the country. DadaSaheb Phalke made the first ever full length feature film in 1913 and was instrumental in setting up the Bollywood film industry, that has become the lifeline of the city. Mumbai based artist Ranjit Dahiya (Bollywood Art Project) created this work for the MTNL building in the city, as part of the 2014 St+art festival in Mumbai. 800 litres of paint were used with 2 boom cranes working in parallel for 10 days. It was completed in 10 days. The st+art India foundation pays homage to Dadasaheb by using a structure of the city he so influenced, as a canvas for this portrait.
Too Fast but not Furious?
On 20 March I go to a talk by Apeejay Arts entitled “Street Art in India: Then and Now”. A panel of street artists, the St.Art festival team and authors writing about this topic discuss the sudden boom in a certain type of street and urban art in Kochi, Pune, Rishikesh, Mumbai and more, that fits within a global framework at a first glance, but has not developed and grown in popularity quite in the same way. In other cities such as New York and Sao Paolo street art has evolved over along period of time and often emerged out of social inequalities and frustrations, leading to political and social activist works. Some people want to paint a pretty picture, but others also have something intellectually stimulating or emotional to communicate, to make a point; to be seen and heard, to evoke a response, discussion and debate.
The panel agrees that the movement in India skipped all of the social and political aspects woven into the historical development of street art around the world, and has suddenly fast forwarded to cool works appearing all over the city. There are many brilliant social projects for example recognizing women’s equality and the lives of prisoners at a jail in Delhi, as well as those that have explored cleaning up the streets and making public spaces more attractive and user friendly. There is a lot happening on a local level in cities involving numerous Indian artists and practitioners, people from around the world are not dominating what is developing here. Local artists and festivals have successfully collaborated with the bureaucrats and painted government walls, pushing the boundaries adding another touch of cool to this already fantastic and vibrant mind-boggling nation. But is it still cool and relevant if there is no frustration, suspense, breaking of rules or risk involved, has India missed the point?
The Future for Street Art
It’s intriguing and exciting when you look at the range of projects and works created in just a few years in India, but its definitely too early to start conceptualizing and putting into a concrete framework what street art means for India; the paint has dried but the dust hasn’t quite settled, so to speak. It will be interesting to see what comes up in the next 10 years, and how recent projects have an impact on the energetic new youth of India, and how different sections of society respond to it, moving it forward. Cities all over the world are growing in every direction possible, and India is already a bursting at the seams with people. Let’s see what happens to street art all over the world, as booming cities could mean more diverse groups of people layering on top of each other, as they already do in developing countries. How will this affect street art, and will it still matter with technological advances potentially threatening the existence of this now respected art form? One that some argue is losing its edge the more institutionally accepted it becomes.