St+art Chennai 2020: With thematic murals, community workshops, the city gets its first art district
The art district will be set up in with murals, community workshops and curated tours, in Kannagi Nagar, under the purview of St+art Chennai 2020 – the foundation’s first urban arts festival in the city.
Working with 10 national (including 5 local artists from Chennai) and 5 international artists, St+art India Foundation and Asian Paints collaborated for the St+art Chennai 2020 festival. It will entail multiple street art interventions in the form of murals, workshops and curated tours in the Kannagi Nagar neighbourhood of Chennai, along with establishing the area as India’s fifth public art district. In the image (as shown above), Chennai-based artist A-Kill features two smiling sisters on a huge façade in the Kannagi Art District which is visible from miles away in the neighbourhood. This mural is dedicated to the core spirit of Kannagi Nagar, which A-Kill thought was characterized by its young people.
In the image (as shown above), Spanish artist Antonyo Marest has created a ‘new door’ — characterised by bright colours and vibrant geometric patterns — metaphorically alluding to the artist’s wish for the community to live a better and sunny future. Marked with the words ‘Allegra’, which translates to ‘joy’ in English (and is also the name of Marest’s daughter) and using a vibrant assortment of gradients, Antonyo’s mural is the artist’s attempt to spread positive vibes in the neighbourhood.
The mural (as shown above) titled 'Harbouring Hope' by artist Kashmira Sarode has been created as an ensemble of hope in the midst of displacement and migration. It is dedicated to inhabitants of the area who had to move from the coast to Kannagi Nagar after the devastating tsunami of 2004. Sarode’s mother-daughter duo, placed amidst the waves is shown looking upwards and surrounded by iris flowers – symbolizing the essence of hope in possible traumatic situations.
As one of the biggest resettlement sites in India, the neighbourhood of Kannagi Nagar is home to more than 80,000 people living in 24000+ households. A major chunk of residents include people rehabilitated from three major river beds in the city – Cuoom, Adyar, and the Buckingham Canal, under the state’s government’s initiatives to restore the waterways. The demography of the area also includes people previously living in slums across the city, from Arumbakkam to Saidapet, to Teynampet to Royapettah. St+art India, supported by Asian Paints rolled out ‘Neelam’ – a blue art cart – which is a part of St+art Chennai 2020 Festival. Neelam took to the streets of Kannagi Nagar for an open-to-all participative painting workshop with the residents of Kannagi.
As Neelam rolled through the neighbourhood, kids from the locality followed it through the journey as it made its way to the site to pain the columns with the St+art team! An incomplete construction site with standing columns and no roof became the stite for this inclusive experiment where they did a walk-in workshop for everyone to be part of.
Owing to the distance between the site and the residents’ original places of habitation, a considerable number of residents lost their livelihoods upon being rehabilitated. While the crisis of unemployment is rampant in the neighbourhood, several residents are forced to take up odd and menial jobs to make ends meet.
A central theme guiding narratives of the artworks in Kannagi Art District would be ‘People and Environment’, centralising the project to the residents’ present sources of livelihood, which range from working at construction sites, as porters or rickshaw pullers, and/or house maids etc.
This is also aimed at attempting to positively affect the image of the neighbourhood in the city’s collective imagination as well as humanise its residents to ‘mainland’ Chennai.
Through a focus on themes of displacement, migration and movement, artists of six different nationalities (Canada, Austria, Spain, India, Australia, Switzerland), with an inclusion of the community of Kannagi Nagar will create artworks to reflect the characteristic identity of the area.
Making a conscious effort to work for and with the residents of Kannagi Nagar, the festival will also include a rich programming of workshops, performances and events, including partnerships with several local organisations.
A wide array of curated workshops with artists and local organisations, facilitated by volunteers from SPI Edge, will include activities ranging from collage making to photography to spray painting to hand-lettering for kids and adults. Australian street artist Bronte Naylor (as shown above), conducted painting workshops with the young residents of Kannagi Nagar. While lifting up kids who found it tricky to reach the upper corners of the wall, Naylor guided the others on which combinations of colours they could use to give the mural a defining look.
A special ‘community showcase’ has been scheduled to take place on 29 February which will be an outcome of the activities done during the workshops and will be displayed on the streets in the neighbourhood.