In a night scene from Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, Murad (Ranveer Singh) accompanies a couple of new acquaintances around Mumbai while they spray paint on walls, advertisements on windows, and hoardings. These acts, unlike attempts to disfigure our archaeological heritage, are actions of activism — a kind of defiance of the 'normal'. It is also perhaps the first sight of street art in Indian popular culture, or at least of its creation – people going about making murals on walls. A relatively nascent form, still trying to find its footing in India, it has been witness to some significant developments over the last few years. None more so than in Delhi’s Lodhi Colony, where St+art has painted a fresh set of murals in 2019, transforming the South Delhi area into a wistful array of colours, caricatures and coded politics.
Lodhi Colony is now akin to an art district with colourful, evocative murals lining walls and adorning previously neglected corners. Captivated people can be seen clicking photographs and filming videos in the area. “There's no ticket that has to be paid, there is no education or upbringing required to just stop by and admire the pieces. Because of the appropriation of public spaces which, in one way or the other, are not connected to ourselves, they are for everybody to experience, for everybody to live in; like a very political sort of stand,” Giulia Ambrogi, co-founder and head curator for St+art Foundation, says about the core value of art in the streets. In its third edition this year, around 30 artists from across the world were assembled by the foundation to paint murals in the district.
Evidently, a number of murals in Lodhi Colony have ideological and activist connotations. “All these artists are literally globetrotters, which means that their art is spread over in every country of the world. This also means that the experience that they're coming with, it's a very democratic, very dense, very cross-cultural sort of background, which opens up to very meaningful discourses. It opens up to different visuals, to a possible visual education that can happen everywhere because of how they treat the surface of a wall as a speaker, a speaker for many different topics,” Ambrogi says. Artists like Georgia Hill (Australia), Daan Bolotek (Netherlands) and Hanif Qureshi (India) were part of this year’s festival.
The foundation, now close to five years old, has previously taken up ambitious projects across cities like Mumbai and Hyderabad. Lodhi Colony, though, may be its most expansive to date. Ambrogi believes that access is a huge factor in the evaluation of any form of art. “The accessibility means that [artists are] working on topics that are relevant in our current scenario on a public wall. It means that the level of connection, the level of impact is much higher than what it can be when a very relevant work on a very relevant topic is showcased in a gallery that perhaps receives 100 people in a month,” she says. But other than the location and the material, there is a different dictum in place, a different notion that separates street art from art in the street. Here the art is perhaps louder, also a lot freer than what we see in galleries, not to mention the sense of permanence and therefore, little chance of retreat from what has been said.
As for the process of making the murals themselves, Ambrogi explains it is different for the artists as well. “It's a very integrated process, with all the external agents of rain, heat, how many people are around, the traffic of the city… All of that also comes into the picture, as well as the dynamic with the body of the artist. It is literally like a sort of body art, like a performance,” she says. In this case, a site of significant historic heritage itself, the artists have drawn inspiration from the existing arches and walls of the Colony. “Many artists in the Lodhi Art District took inspiration or used references of Lodhi Gardens [in their work], like old Mughal heritage, the patterns of the jali. One of the artists recreated one of the tombs of Lodhi Garden around the arch of the Lodhi Colony wall. Basically, inspiration from what happens around and how contextual these inspirations have to be, how they infuse peace, is absolutely fundamental,” Ambrogi says about the form being site-specific.
Not just murals, the foundation has organised curated walks this year, as well as in-house exhibitions and other community events to bring the colony and its inhabitants together, all for art.
Any form of art in the public realm is bound to be scrutinised, especially in the context of a conservative society like India. This, then, is the most public and permanent type of art; its politics and its provocations may be irretrievable after a point. What does the foundation do to make sure there is freedom, but not offence? “We try to avoid anything that is related to religion or politics,” Ambrogi says. “This is because we want to stay away from themes that can facilitate discomfort. We want to make sure that the dialogue the artist is going to trigger with the context is a valuable dialogue, but is not offensive and is constructive. But at the same time, art should be free and therefore we should not limit the artists in their investigation of any specific subject,” Ambrogi says.
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Updated Date: Mar 31, 2019 18:54:22 IST