Daku, one of India's most prolific street/graffiti artists, continues to remain anonymous almost a decade after he started working. His is a different kind of banditry from other dacoits; he hopes to reclaim and re-purpose public spaces to start engaging conversations. He addresses his anonymity right at the onset of our chat: “I’m not a super-secret person, it’s just that my work is more visible than my face. A few years into my career, I faced some inquiries from the police in Delhi and Bengaluru for my graffiti and I felt that it’s better to be discreet.” Any comparisons with Banksy are quickly shot down; Daku says that their genres are too different to be comparable.
His work makes one pause and ponder – about the role of governments, the impact of global warming and the part individuals play as cogs in the wheel that is civilisation. It addresses both local and global issues, enabling an instant emotive connect. Is graffiti the ideal form of protest? “That’s a standard journalist perception,” he smiles and explains, “Equating graffiti with protest originated in the West and has spilled over to India. Anything on a wall is graffiti. While this idea has been slow to grow in India, it has slowly caught the imagination of the public in the past couple of years.”
The artist's work over the years has evolved from writing his name on the walls of Delhi to a sharpened focus on socio-political commentary. During the elections, his quirky graffiti said 'mat do' (which was about holding elected representatives accountable). Another piece depicted rising fuel prices in the form of a rocket. 'To make people think' is the driving force behind his work, and to this effect he employs English, Devanagari and even Urdu (in some parts of Delhi).
His current installations in the US, France and even in Hyderabad (where we caught him on the sidelines of the Hyderabad Design Week) focus on light and shadows. An admirer of French photographer/artist JR, he confesses that he is fascinated by the interplay of light and shadow. He muses, “In this modern digital world, we seem to have forgotten time and its relationship with shadow. I am currently interpreting that duality in my work.”
For Hyderabad Design Week, the artist has constructed an installation in the shape of a question mark with 3 lakh upcycled plastic bottles, emphasising the impact of single-use plastic. The installation in the middle of Hussain Sagar (which once supplied drinking water to the city and is now a glorified sewer) is brutal and questions the city residents' priorities. When it comes to plastic there are only questions, no answers, he says. "Are we the citizens responsible for plastic, or is it the companies who manufacture it? Multinationals have a huge role in plastic consumption, but they hold people responsible for it. Plastic is actually a medium for them to sell their products.”
He further questions the indiscriminate dumping of idols in Hussain Sagar (which is state-sponsored) and says that all these factors contributed to the form that his installation took. Given its location (in the heart of the city) one hopes that it will further ignite debate about a pressing issue. The installation uses solar-powered lights and will be lit through the night.
The challenges he faces in his artistic practice range from logistics (he works on bigger installations in different cities) to issues with authority (his team of five artists were once caught by the police, who asked them to cough up a fine of Rs 50000 per person; they settled at Rs 1010, as everyone emptied their pockets!) as well as simple issues of perception (people wonder why he invests so much time and money on painting a wall). “Graffiti is definitely more acceptable than it was a decade ago. While it is a punishable offence under the West Bengal Act (which was bought out due to the increase in political graffiti and adopted by other states), many still feel that it is only a wall, after all, which can be painted over, so it is looked on more with contempt rather than as a criminal activity,” he shares.
The role of street art in the society, Daku says, is to give individuals a voice of their own, which isn’t influenced by popular opinion. “It's important for individuals to exercise their right to opinion. The media has its own voice, which is at times driven by their own interests or advertising. In a young country like India, it is crucial that the youth have a medium to express themselves and street art is ideal for that,” he opines.
Interestingly, he considers hoardings – those ubiquitous sentinels of advertisement – to be an extension of an artist’s expression too. He is also amused by the fact that no one questions hoardings. “No one asks: Why does it need to be here?” he wonders out loud, “We are always surrounded by advertisements. I would ask people to question their surroundings, question why they are considered normal and question their presence.”
Updated Date: Oct 28, 2019 09:05:01 IST