A pithy message on the wall

Street art

Aakshat Sinha, an artist has ‘anonymously’ painted many walls of Delhi with messages that speak against the unjust actions of the government and private bodies, in a comical way. He is also recognised as a ‘professional artist’ and has been commissioned to do wall art in many significant parts of the city. But he is ‘dissatisfied’ with most of his projects: “I have always felt restricted while working for someone” says Sinha. “Most of the time, they want me to just draw something beautiful,” he explains. Sinha has been a street artist since many years and has a pen name which he does not want to reveal.

In Delhi, we have come across ‘Daku’ painted on walls. Daku painted a graffiti saying ‘Mat Do’ at F-block, Connaught Place, just before the 2014 General Election. Going past it, many wondered whether he meant ‘mat do’, as in don’t give (vote) or exercise your right to vote. The painting showed a fisted hand with an inked middle finger.

Another artist with the street name ‘PCO Basic Shit’, has talked about sanitation and need for public toilets around the city, through his artwork on the wall of a dilapidated public convenience in Janakpuri. These artists hardly reveal their identity but have been able to provoke us.

“The point is not to offend the public and authorities. It is to tease the public conscience which is dormant at times,” he tells Metrolife. He has painted some of the 3D anamorphic paintings at India Habitat Centre’s Amphitheatre and Zamrudpur Community Centre. The street artists also work independently in their studios as ‘professional artists’ from where they earn the major part of their fame and money.

When street art is promoted through street art festivals and beautification drives in the city, the government and private authorities commission or grant permissions for the wall arts -- to these disguised street artists. Some of the artwork we can see near Parliament House, Shahpur Jat, Hauz Khas Village and Press Club of India. These wall artworks may or may not have been executed by the anonymous street artist, but when the same ‘professional artists’ go out to speak their minds as ‘street artists’, it may be ‘construed as vandalising public property’.

During the Street Art Festival, Delhi, Sinha painted many dustbins with bright colours. But he painted one of the dustbins as a spittoon, which was immediately confiscated and kept out of public sight. Says Sinha, the government officials who authorised the festival ‘wanted the dustbins to look beautiful’!

Writer Amitava Sanyal who is bowled over by the idea of street art and its significance as a contemporary art form, tells Metrolife, “The very act of putting the art on the wall is political.” ‘Street artists subvertise their ideas behind a beautiful image,” he says, citing the bright, happy image at the Janakpuri toilet painted by PCO, he exclaims, “What is political is that PCO drew it on the wall of an unusable toilet.”

Sanyal has met street artists who travel the world ‘looking for a good wall’ to put their thoughts on, ‘a wall that would be visible yet not treacherous’. Though “street art breaks through all institutions of art patronage,” Sanyal feels in India it is not as ‘individualistic’ as in other parts of the world. There are “very few artists here who use it as a medium to spread a message.”

Samita Chatterjee, has been painting Delhi’s streets for the past six years. “More than painting a graffiti, the incredible culture of connecting people, painting with other people and the sense of community has always been one of the most inspiring things about street painting for me,” she says.

According to Chatterjee, ‘creepy, funny, dark and graceful’ are all things that can be used to describe what she tries to do on the streets. “I think at some point I wanted to terrorise people, but I might have unfortunately grown out of that,” she adds.

Arjun Bahl, co-founder of St-art Delhi festival says, “Art seems so intimidating when you enter these elite galleries and appreciate it with a group of people who come from a certain economic background. Art is for everyone to see. Through the street art festival we want to make art more available to the public. For the artist it should become a medium to express themselves and not only to garner fame. Is art only to adorn sophisticated, off-white, closed galleries? Art needs to be democratised as well.”

Tariq Aziz, a first timer in street art says, “I have been drawing and painting digitally, but painting outdoors, on the streets, with curious onlookers all around you, seems daunting at first. But after creating ‘artwork’ sitting inside a cubicle and staring at a computer for most of the time, creating artwork on huge 'canvases' (walls) and in front of an audience is a real delight.”

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