Moving India’s Art from Museums to Streets – Graffiti

By Bhawna Chauhan, Gargi Chanda & Keren Elizabeth Abraham

(Master of Design, National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi)

Introduction

Vandalism, disrespect, rebellion, a symbol of urban decay, these are few descriptors the vast majority of the population would use for graffiti or Street art, but is graffiti any different than any other art form? Just like any other piece of art, graffiti is an expression. It can easily be argued that graffiti is the biggest art movement ever seen, especially on a global scale. Street art today in a way is allowing people to connect with art and expression on a daily basis, the colourful and beautiful murals painted on walls, trains etc reach out to the public every day.

The wall has always been the most widely used medium for communication and can be dated back to the prehistoric times. Scribbling on the wall is instinctive. The first thing a child does is a scribble on the walls as soon as he/she can get the hold on a crayon. The idea is that a bigger canvas is always more appealing to work on. This act of scribbling, scratching or spraying anything illicitly upon a wall or any other visible public place is the dictionary meaning of graffiti. The term graffiti literally means “little scratching” derived from the Italian word graffiare the meaning of which is, to scratch. Whereas others believe that it is derived from the Greek term graphein which means to write (choudhary 2014). Graffiti in different forms from across the world have been helpful in providing valuable insights into the earlier societies because the walls have a story to tell.

Today, Graffiti art is often associated with street art which is defined as any art developed in public spaces. The terms “urban art”, “guerilla art”, “post-graffiti” and “neo-graffiti” are also sometimes used to describe these forms of art (choudhary 2014). But as a whole modern day graffiti and street art or urban art speaks about communication and can be broadly categorized into- mass communication like social or political commentaries and individual expression. With time Graffiti art reached a global platform. As it travelled worldwide, many new techniques and forms and connotations attached themselves to this art form. Every culture contributed to this art form with its own set of symbolisms. India as a democratic nation is not new to this idea of using walls as a form of advertisement or expression. Delhi has been an ever changing city due to the numerous invasions, migrations etc in the past centuries. These changes have contributed to the form of Graffiti and street art with open arms. These art forms are now set to add a new layer to this city which is unique in itself. The main focus to study Graffiti/Street Art is to understand the ideologies and cultural diplomacy of Graffiti in India, and how street art came to India in a major perspective.

Literature Review

A Review of literature has been done to write this paper focusing on the origin of graffiti in New York as a sub-genre of Hip Hop culture, what were the social economic condition of New York that time which gave rise to graffiti and how it reach to its acmes and influenced society and became reason of vexation for New York administration and police and later how they managed to seize graffiti and graffiti artist both. Also, the freedom of expression it promises attracts many young artists to take up charge of this ephemeral activity. This street art activity has seen various modifications since its advent in Delhi. Like critical regionalists, artists have tried to integrate local elements into the foreign art form. The source includes books on graffiti like Aestheticizing Public Space, Graffiti in Asia, Abstract Graffiti, UK; articles; news journals; blogs and research papers and documentary movies on graffiti like wildstyle, infamy, style wars and Beat Street which gave visual vocabulary about graffiti around the world. For Indian context, studied news articles were studied, interview by graffiti artist and their family members to know their perspective toward graffiti in India, article on Nonprofit able organization those conduct street art festivals in India, their  motive behind organizing these festivals and what are people ‘s reaction towards graffiti. Another aspect covered while studying was how beautification of public spaces through graffiti on walls revives public spaces and promotes cleanliness in the locality.  (PAN, n.d.)

Methodology

The present study is descriptive cum exploratory. It is primarily based on Primary data collected from various sources like interview with Giulia Ambrogi, Hanif Kureshi, Akshat Nauriyal and Thanish Thomas at St+ Art foundation, New Delhi and to understand locality of different Street art district. The places visited were Lodhi Colony, Tughlakabad, Khirki extension, JNU campus, and khaus khaz village. A secondary research was done in order to know about the origin of graffiti in the world and collected data from news articles, journals, books, documentary movies and graffiti artist interviews. The analysis has been done on the basis of both the secondary and primary data collected during the research to understand the ideologies and cultural diplomacy of Graffiti in India, and how street art came to India in a major perspective in last three years.

Key terms:

Graffiti: writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.

Graffscapes: spatial narrations

Cultural diplomacy: Cultural diplomacy a type of public diplomacy and soft power that includes the “exchange of ideas, information, art and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding.”

Tag: A stylized signature, normally done in one colour. The simplest and most prevalent type of graffiti, a tag is often done in a colour that contrasts sharply with its background. Tag can also be used as a verb meaning “to sign”.

Mural: a painting or other work of art executed directly on a wall.

Hip-hop culture: Hip hop is a subculture movement that formed during the early 1970s by African-American, Caribbean, and Latino youths residing in the South Bronx in New York City

Culture, Consciousness, and Identity

The Concept of culture and society in relation to literature and anthropology has always been an issue of debate for the theorists, sociologists, anthropologists and literary critics. Robert Lowie (1917) said that culture was not something genetic and racial. He has the view that culture is always an outcome of the human activities and culture is the very source to inculcate specific characteristics in individuals. What people do is frequently more important than what they say. In his opinion, a few important elements of culture are language, religion, arts and architecture, customs, values, morality, cuisine, tastes, aesthetic norms, family structure, attitude towards one’s own self, attitude towards sex, gender, and poverty. He describes culture as a thing of ‘shreds and patches’ (Gull, 2015). In his view, it is a phrase which contains everything. In an increasingly globalized interdependent world, in which the rise of mass communication technology ensure greater access to each other the ever before, cultural diplomacy is critical to fostering peace and stability throughout the world. Cultural diplomacy has the unique ability to influence the ‘global public opinion’ and ideology of individuals, communities, cultures or nations. Like numerous other creative practices including dance music and theatre, here street art and graffiti become tools that can contribute to recognition, debate, and change in justice, human rights, peace, diversity, and intercultural dialogues. This is why the arts and creative practice are so critical, as projects with the public, communities and young people can bring about social and political, local and global changes.

New Delhi is the diplomatic capital of the country, and that is one of the reasons that make it a place for diverse cuisine, arts, people, and events. Delhi has been through various changes in its history because it has served as a capital of various distinctive rulers of different religion and ranging from Hindu Kings to Muslim Sultans to a British Government, the reins of the city kept shifting from one ruler to another and this is one of the reasons the city of Delhi can mold itself and is open towards acceptance of any kind of new culture from any part of the world. Delhi is not only the largest commercial centre in Northern India but also the largest centre of small industries. The IT sector, handloom, fashion, textile and electronic industry contribute a lot to Delhi’s economy and this strong economical structure makes it a cosmopolitan city where people from all parts of the country lives together and they are open to embracing new ideas and lifestyle and this is one of the reasons Delhi is titled as ‘Dil Valo ki Delhi’ (lively people‘s Place – Delhi). Its culture is the best example of charming mix of old and new world, On one side you can see old architectural sites, buzzing streets and exotic markets with its deep-rooted beliefs and traditional values, on the other hand, it witness magnificent Malls, swamped by over bridges, modern opulent high-rise buildings and lots of greenery which showcase its prosperity and openness towards new Ideas. As Delhi is a land of old and stunning examples of Mughal and British architecture it always attracts foreign tourist to come and experience Delhi cultures and values. These foreign tourists play their important role in making Delhi one of the best examples of cross-cultural destination as they bring their cultural values along with them, which always influence Delhi‘s culture in some or the other way. Edward T. Hall said “Culture is a complex series of interrelated activities, with roots buried in the past, in infra-culture, behavior that preceded culture but later became elaborated by humans into the culture” and Delhi is one of the examples of his theory.

EDWARD T. HALL mentioned in his book ‘The Silent Language’ that “Culture is communication and communication cultures. The computer is an extension of certain functions of the brain, the telephone extends the voice, the wheel extends the legs and feet, language extends experience in time and space, and writing extends the language. Vision, the last of the senses to evolve, is by far the most complex. Vision is synthesis. It is not passive but active, a transaction between a person and her/his environment. A person learns while he sees and what he learns influences what he sees.” While rushing through urban areas of today, one can see millions of attention dragging commercials everywhere they look. If one keeps their eyes open more carefully they also find lots of artistic expressions of thoughts and wishes using public walls as communication platforms; expressions created by individuals that are reflecting diverse opinions, which might not necessarily be shared by the whole of society and often not occur in the mass media. What infuses these urban space displays with complexity and makes them worthy of intense scholarship are the juxtapositions of these images against each other and in complimentary conflict with typical city scenes – buildings, traffic signs, streets, vehicles, pedestrians, sky views, and so on. This dissonance creates unique meanings – a unique language – a visual culture.

In Delhi these days one can see graffiti, stencils, and stickers with clearly political and social messages – on flyovers, bus-stands, street-signs, and auto-rickshaws. One of the significant reasons behind using the visual medium to pass your message to public is because ‘communication medium in which words and pictures have equal status are more easily understood by almost everyone. Words are easily forgotten, but pictures stay in our minds. It might be a result of the explosion in Television Culture as Philosopher Hanno Hardt stated that “the television culture is replacing words as the important factor in social communication. Shortly, words will be reserved for only bureaucratic transactions through business forms and in books that will only be read by a few individuals. Reading is losing to watching because viewing requires little mental processing.”

As EDWARD T. HALL mentioned in his book ‘The Hidden Dimension’ that “Art can be a rich source of data on human perception. The art of a culture reveals a great deal about the perceptual world of that culture. The artist provides the reader, listener or viewer with properly selected cues that are not only congruent with the events depicted but consistent with the unspoken language and culture of the audience”.  Similarly, Graffiti is a form of art which reflects the culture of the city through visual communication medium on walls of a particular space, using vibrant colors.

Graffiti writers display their thoughts towards society and space which belongs to them. They give a message through visual medium about ‘what they feel and what‘s their opinion and what’s they want  to say which other people don’t want to listen or they just ignore because that is not beneficial for them. A lot of Graffiti emerged in Delhi during the construction works for the Commonwealth Games that took place in October 2010 – stickers saying “QUIT CWG” or stencils playing with the words, referring to the games as “Corporate Wealth Games”, to name only a few. Still it’s not so easy to find them as advertisers are also competing for the public space. So if someone searches for graffiti, they will first have to blind out large-scale commercials that seem to have won the city landscapes. According to graffiti artists and writers, graffiti is a way to engage with the symbols of development in the city. Symbols, which are built on perceived exploitation and corruption, such as flyovers, malls, etc. The pace at which the city is changing makes graffiti more relevant because it aims at revealing that very process and challenging it. It seems that graffiti-writers engage in dialogue with the city itself, out of a motivation to challenge the idea that major companies and social norms dominate and restrict access to public space, to space which maybe offers the opportunity to live democracy in its true sense. In this context, it is also felt that the new cityscape and development models are very exclusionist. They do not reflect the reality of lots of people. Graffiti is a way to rupture this narrative and not let them get away with it, for example in spaces like Shahpur Jat village and Khirki extension in Delhi (nowdelhi.tv, 2014). But graffiti scene in New York was totally different than what is look like in India in present scenario, it travelled it’s journey from vandalism to graceful piece of art.

The international Graffiti Scene and its commencing.

Susan Philips defines graffiti as phenomena that “personalize depersonalized space, construct landscapes of identity, and make public space into private space. The word Graffiti has been used to describe a variety of wall writings including prehistoric cave paintings and a wide variety of political, sexual, humorous, and self-identifying messages that have been scratched, painted and marked on walls throughout history”. Graffiti has been found on carved rocks in ancient Egypt town and in Italy. The ancient graffiti messages addressed topics from the pleasures of food to advice on love and friendship; while modern graffiti is more self-conscious and literate as a means of reflecting on current affairs. Graffiti started in the early 1960’s but can be argued that the first ever pieces of artwork located in the caves, where our ancient ancestors resided, were graffiti. Darryl McCray or “Cornbread” is claimed to be the first to start graffiti.  When McCray was in juvenile prison he would write his name “Cornbread” all over the prison. No one really knew who he was, but everyone knew his name, and McCray proceeded to do the same thing when he was released from prison. This quickly spread to New York City where Demetrius aka TAKI 183 blew it up. After he made the front page of the New York Times for his tag (your “signature”) almost every kid in New York City was tagging and it came up with sub – genre of Hip Hop culture. Through this, the tagging youth of that period wanted to show their frustration and anger against the government because of unemployment and prove that they are not just a number. Graffiti was everywhere, lampposts, street signs, buildings, and especially subway cars. It passed through different phases during its journey which started with random tagging of names on subways and trains in early 60’s than mid-seventies that was known as a golden era for graffiti writers when many subway cars were completely covered in top-to-bottom paintings. After this MTA (Metro Transit Authority) came into the scene and began to repair yard fences, and remove graffiti consistently, battling the surge of graffiti artists. But graffiti spread further through Art galleries, movies, media and commercialization of graffiti in the form of advertisement and video games. With street art, there is no clear destruction of property, but the meaningful form of expression, which also aesthetically enhances the area while giving a message. While unsanctioned street art can still be deemed illegal, they are not necessarily cases of vandalism. Street art can be found in every major city in the world, cities such as New York, Berlin, Chicago, Los Angeles, China, Russia, South Africa, Paris, San Francisco and Sao Paulo are internationally known for their graffiti street art scenes.

Graffiti + Landscapes = Graffscapes (Urban space analysis)

Graffiti beckon from our peripheral vision as one traverse urban landscapes in cars, trains, buses, cycles, rickshaws or on foot, yet for many they are little more than passing flashes of indecipherable colour, reminders of anti-social tendencies and the ubiquity of global subcultures. Graffiti is a part of the urban landscape, as one of the ways in which it brings the city to life and space is narrated. Graffiti as both products of artists moving through an urban landscape and as art viewed in motion are part of the articulation of the cityscape. A common argument among graffiti artists is that the legally sanctioned billboards and advertisements that adorn urban environments are a greater eyesore than graffiti, and it is only the fact that capitalist-influenced laws make one legal and the other not that urns their art into an underground activity.  Graffiti writing challenges assumptions of who has accesses to public literacy, who controls the space, who can sanction public images and lettering, who gets to decide what a city looks like. The understanding of global graffscapes is in relationship to urban landscapes, space and movement open up alternative ways of thinking about how one should interact with a city. Graffiti is there a part of revisioning landscapes. Graffscapes are a reminder of both the locality of global style and the globality of local style. Graffiti also reminds the translation of social unrest, an image of the city that reflects not only the desired objects of the bourgeois gaze-history, tradition, architecture, investment but also those more threatening urban stories of sub cultural struggle, class, and social disquiet. (Pennycook, n.d.) Similarly Delhi has its own definition for graffiti in relation to its urban space.

Delhi as a Canvas

Colorful and chaotic, fragrant and fast paced, spiritual and social. Just a few of the ways to sum up life and culture in India, a country that can’t help but leave a mark on those who have experienced firsthand the sensory overload of its streets. But despite its rich heritage and large urban expanses, Graffiti or street art is still not known much by many citizens. Well, at least in comparison to those living in the European equivalents such as Barcelona, London or Berlin. People in India must have seen painted walls for advertisement by some doctor for ‘gupt rog’ (sexual disease) or for the political promotion of any party during election campaigns and other similar promotional painted walls near railways tracks or on the wall of any unclaimed property.  Delhi as a metropolitan city has various sections of society living in one place, some of the bland pastels painted concrete walls of some nouveau arty places in Delhi along with the university area have turned into living canvases for the artistically aligned individuals, groups, organizations, and initiatives.

Fig 1 : (Above) Daku ‘s street paste up mocking the Louis Vuitton logo at the corner of the urban village of Khirkee Extension. In this art piece Daku put two contradictory things together to show economic inequality in Indian society, in this he wrote ‘DaKu' or if we read it in another way than ‘KU' ‘Da" which means garbage in Louis Vuitton logo pattern which is a high-end fashion brand. Photo courtesy: http://hahamag.com/tag/daku/

Fig 1 : (Above) Daku ‘s street paste up mocking the Louis Vuitton logo at the corner of the urban village of Khirkee Extension. In this art piece Daku put two contradictory things together to show economic inequality in Indian society, in this he wrote ‘DaKu’ or if we read it in another way than ‘KU’ ‘Da” which means garbage in Louis Vuitton logo pattern which is a high-end fashion brand.
Photo courtesy:
http://hahamag.com/tag/daku/

Street art is for all to see and for all to own. In a commercialized place like Delhi, this ‘free’ art – literally and metaphorically seemed an anomaly, which was clear from the interaction with the community members, the residents and the passerby who were curious and could not understand why anyone would create huge pieces of art for free. Graffiti in India has a very flimsy history as it is not that much well documented and graffiti itself have a very less life so it is really difficult to trace when and by whom graffiti in India was started in India but explosion of Hip hop culture in 90’s is the biggest reason behind today’s graffiti status in India. Unlikely to western world India Graffiti is not seen as a symbol of vandalism or urban decay, but it is much easier to find people who are willing to let an artist ‘decorate’ their walls likewise Graffiti writers also play their part graciously. Along with tagging walls with their names graffiti writers also give socio- economic messages through their art piece like one of the graffiti writer ‘Daku’ , who is commonly  get referred to as the Indian Banksy, is known through his socio-  political wheat pastes and the complexities of his ever-morphing tag.

Fig 2: (Left) This piece is based on contrast between visual and smell, Photo courtesy: https://www.instagram.com/p/8kE5d-r5Ok/

Fig 2: (Left) This piece is based on contrast between visual and smell,
Photo courtesy: https://www.instagram.com/p/8kE5d-r5Ok/

Similarly, many other Indian Graffiti writers like Yantr, Zine, Zake and many other, worked individually and kept influencing Indian society through messages in their piece of art which is mostly influenced by the socio-economic condition of society. In 2012 “Extension Khirkee” project was organized by artist Aastha Chauhan, which was first properly organized street art festival to take place in Delhi, in the city’s Khirki Village area. It was launched by the not-for-profit Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA), which provided platform to graffiti writers from all across the country and world to come, interact and showcase their skills. One of the major reasons because of which they choose Khirki Village was the political structures and official planning regulations of the village are not as well-defined as in Delhi’s “gated communities,” which results in many other experimental creative projects like Khoj and Hip Hop dance studio Tiny Drops. As a social, economic and cultural mix—of older village families, recent migrants to the capital, middle-class students, and low-income laborers—also situated adjacent to a major shopping mall, Khirki is a crossroads of sorts between areas representative of old and new India.

Fig 3: (Above)This mural of a Buddha-like face covered in a gas mask sprouting leaves, by artist Yantr, faces a heavily congested intersection in Khirki village. Used as a thoroughfare to get to a major shopping mall near the village, it is known for being a particularly polluted spot located between the urban and the semi-rural.

Fig 3: (Above)This mural of a Buddha-like face covered in a gas mask sprouting leaves, by artist Yantr, faces a heavily congested intersection in Khirki village. Used as a thoroughfare to get to a major shopping mall near the village, it is known for being a particularly polluted spot located between the urban and the semi-rural.

Gradually other similar art festivals were organized by a different organization like Lodhi colony Art district and many other which not only work for graffiti writers but also brings other street art performers together. As per Akshat Nauriyal Statement, drastic change came in perspective of people towards graffiti when Anpu Varkey creating her magic on the walls with the famous Mahatma Gandhi 156 ft tall mural on the Delhi police headquarters on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi Jayanti, which is a total contrast to the western culture.

One of the recent venture into street art in 2016 is the st+art festival in Delhi, Organised by St+Art India Foundation helmed by Arjun Bahl, Akshat Nauriyal, Giulia Ambrogi, Hanif Kureshi, Pierre Guyot and Thanish Thomas among others, the festival, now a prominent feature in the Capital, has branched out to Mumbai as well, where they brought together 25 artists from India and around the world to create wonderful pieces of art like murals, graffiti, installations and more. The foundation has literally made art accessible to all by giving India its first public art district in Lodhi colony, a truly mesmerizing place with its creative wall art work.

Fig 4: (Above) Picture was taken in Lodhi colony. Niels Shoe Meulman did something he has never done before – paint a poem written by him. Being a writer for over 35 years, Shoe decided to mix up all the influences he has had over the years to create this piece. Photo Courtesy: Gargi Chanda

Fig 4: (Above) Picture was taken in Lodhi colony. Niels Shoe Meulman did something he has never done before – paint a poem written by him. Being a writer for over 35 years, Shoe decided to mix up all the influences he has had over the years to create this piece.
Photo Courtesy: Gargi Chanda

The astounding work of these artists is visible on several walls between Khanna market and Meherchand market. Asian paints, being India’s biggest manufacturer supported the creation of India’s first public art district as they supplied free paints and other logistic support to St+ Art foundation, but St+ Art foundation makes it a point that their actual motive of the organization, ‘creating public space for people’ will not get overlooked because of commercialization. St+art India hopes to work more with the government on sustainable project approach towards the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’. (St+Art Delhi, 2014 :: Street Art festival :: Week 1 , 2014)

The event takes on a larger role in this year’s fourth edition open, of re-looking and at redesigning urban spaces in the city. An interesting part of re-defining spaces is also seeing peoples reaction, even if they don’t understand art much on a higher level still they ought to be curious about what are these mural paintings about and who made them. Not only so, they add their own inputs on how to go about creating better art work. This, in turn, encourages the artist to paint and express their art on the walls. Lodhi Colony bears a rich history in Delhi’s timeline; it is a cultural and youth hub, enhanced by the presence of the India Habitat Centre and India International Centre. But the previous state of Lodhi Colony was in stark contrast to this rich heritage. The walls appeared old and worn down, hence, St+art along with the local and international artists transformed this place into a beautiful art attraction in the city.

Fig 5: (Above) A wall dedicated to Swachh Bharat mission in collaboration with Central Public Works department and Ministry of Urban Development, done by painter Kafeel and his team of Sign Painters. Photo courtesy : Gargi Chanda

Fig 5: (Above) A wall dedicated to Swachh Bharat mission in collaboration with Central Public Works department and
Ministry of Urban Development, done by painter Kafeel and his team of Sign Painters.
Photo courtesy : Gargi Chanda

During these events, St+Art foundation also organized workshops for new artists, which is given by professional artists from all across the world, so that they get involved in these events and promote cross-cultural activities. Wide range of ideologies can be seen in these art festival because of participation of wide range of foreign artists from almost every part of world.

Fig 6: (Above) Painted by ‘Never crew', is a Swiss duo whose work examines the human condition and especially the relationship between mankind and nature. The astronaut on top is an explorer – a viewer who constantly perceives everything that is going on from a distance and at a glance. Here the astronaut is perched stop a lodhi arc, witnessing the daily life of this wonderful community. Photo Courtesy: Gargi Chanda

Fig 6: (Above) Painted by ‘Never crew’, is a Swiss duo whose work examines the human condition and especially the relationship between mankind and nature. The astronaut on top is an explorer – a viewer who constantly perceives everything that is going on from a distance and at a glance. Here the astronaut is perched stop a lodhi arc, witnessing the daily life of this wonderful community.
Photo Courtesy: Gargi Chanda

Why do foreign graffiti writers show their Interest in Delhi’s graffiti scene?

India has a rich culture of Art and crafts, when a person travels from the urban life to rural areas, one can see art is a part of life there. Wall paintings have been there in rural villages of India from the ancient times, but there is a stark contrast to that in urban areas. The Urban landscape now is all about fine and definite skyscrapers, legal laws, the simple bland expanse of rows of the building; street art here bridges a gap between art and the monotonous life in an urban cape. India is a country in which street life is among some of the most bustling in the world. Everything happens in the streets. Vendors of all types of goods, food, tailors, barbers, cobblers and unfortunately the homeless….a vibrant life in which it’s necessary to give a contribution, to open new perspectives, to involve people and redefine their spaces. In conversation with Giulia Ambrogi she quoted saying “It has been truly challenging because of the characteristics of the city itself. More traffic, more chaos, and difficulties commuting, there has been the logistic problem but most of all the fun and passion for graffiti is the real quotient factor” (Ambrogi, 2016). Along with all these positive attitudes of people of Delhi toward acceptance of art, it is also a hub of all foreign embassies from all cross the world and these embassies played a major role in cross-cultural events in Delhi through which foreign graffiti writers found a new play to display their art.  One of the examples of such event is, in 2011 German embassy organized a graffiti event in which five renowned graffiti artists from Germany have painted symbols that connect Germany and India. “Incredible Germany meets incredible India”. There are many other similar graffiti projects which were organized by foreign embassies in coloration with Indian graffiti writers like ‘BRINDA’ project which was about Brazil and India collaboration. Apart from events organized by embassies, there are a lot of individual international graffiti writers; those treat India as their second home as they often come and work here (www.delhitourism.gov.in, n.d.). In one of the interview famous international graffiti writer, BOND said “it’s weird but some of the best time of my life I had while painting graffiti in India. Its challenge not only in organizing material or finding wall but many other things but making friends here is very easy and they support you in every possible way to bring out best of your work.” One of the most important reasons for the success of graffiti / street art festivals, apart from hard work of organizers and graffiti writers is local people support, as they support these artists in a possible way because of their cultural belief ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ (Guest is like a god).

Fig 7: (Above ) Beautification of Interior of a house using Graffiti. Photo Courtesy Akshat Nauriyal

Fig 7: (Above ) Beautification of Interior of a house using Graffiti.
Photo Courtesy Akshat Nauriyal

Street art instills a sense of pride among the people where they live and work, it gives the feeling of belongingness and it highlights the acceptance of Indian people towards new forms of art. Street art in Delhi has been picking up for the past two years. There is a vibrant community of graffiti writers. For example, works by writers Daku, Yantr, PCO, Anpu, Zine to name a few are taking shape. Delhi has already been long positioned as a vibrant hub for artists from all over India and the globe to meet up.

Street Art and Social Media

Street art has sometimes been called urban art, and it’s definitely inspired by the growth of the urban metropolis, with all of the big cities that have grown so much in the past 40 or 50 years. Looking at street art as a communications system that developed alongside urban growth provides the perfect lens through which social media can be examined. As social media has developed alongside the rapidly expanding digital movement, it has served as the individual’s mode of communicating with others.

Fig 8: (Above ) A portrait of Gandhi on the Delhi Police headquarters, January 29. Money Sharma/European Press photo Agency http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2014/02/13/how-gandhi-made-it-to-delhi-polices-headquarters/

Fig 8: (Above ) A portrait of Gandhi on the Delhi Police headquarters, January 29. Money Sharma/European Press photo Agency
http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2014/02/13/how-gandhi-made-it-to-delhi-polices-headquarters/

Just as early graffiti artists ‘tagged’ their names or aliases all over the city, people utilize social media as a way of communicating their thoughts with a constantly expanding community of others. Media is a major part that acts like awareness in the 21st century, Graffiti and street Art has become viral past two years in India due to social media sites like facebook, instagram etc.

Fig 9: (Above ) This particular wall art talks about Global warming. The issues pertaining global warming and how do people perceive it. Photo Courtesy: Gargi Chanda

Fig 9: (Above ) This particular wall art talks about Global warming. The issues pertaining global warming and how do people perceive it.
Photo Courtesy: Gargi Chanda

This is a movement in itself where it gives a feel of ownership to everyone who witnesses the beautiful graffiti on the walls. Hanif Kureshi project director of St+art India says, “there were more shares on the Lodhi colony wall art on social media rather than more likes, a way to show pioneer instinct in people to be the first to know about Graffiti or street art. The first tags in India were seen during the 90’s but who can give authentication to it… that’s why media plays an important role in bringing it to the viewer’s because in their life time it’s not possible to see the work done by the artists/writers earlier so social media is a huge player in informing the people, this is my thought since there is rise in the use of social media so one can reason the boom of graffiti maybe” (Kureshi, 2016).

Fig.10 (Above) : Mural art done by Harsh Raman, this is an interactive wall art. As the black painted area is an interactive space where children can come and draw. Photo Courtesy: Gargi Chanda

Fig.10 (Above) : Mural art done by Harsh Raman, this is an interactive wall art. As the black painted area is an interactive space where children can come and draw.
Photo Courtesy: Gargi Chanda

Street Art and Graffiti is all about making art for everyone so that it’s not for one set of people. So all can enjoy and interact with it. “Since India doesn’t have a major history of Graffiti, it is good to work here with various artists and giving them a platform to showcase their art work” as said by Giulia Ambrogi, curator of St+art foundation (Ambrogi, 2016). Another interesting aspect is there has always been this argument of gender in graffiti, there are fewer women participating artists but now the scene has changed, woman are hence being a major part of the graffiti scene in India. Like Anpu, as she gave a new direction to Indian Graffiti with her mural on Delhi police head quarter with collaboration with Hendrik Beikirch.

Conclusion

India is an enchanting land with rich, varied and colourful flora and fauna, with people’s acceptance to graffiti as a part of their urban lives it has added more colour to their everyday life. In last four years graffiti has gone through considerable growth,  international graffiti writers treat Delhi‘s walls as a brand new clear canvas without any negative image of graffiti, where they can display their art form without any restriction. International artist and Graffiti events worked as a catalyst which helps bringing Indian talents forward, along with this other form of publicity through social media, you tube, and news papers, etc have motivated the artists and contributed in development of this art form in India. The rapid emerging growth of Graffiti in India is here to stay; people are asking questions about graffiti and street art and enjoying the whole experience of a beautifully colorful environment. Like any other art on canvas or collectibles, Graffiti also is taking tiny steps towards a new industry. Just as foundations like St+art India and various others are bringing in cross-culture collaborations and making the graffiti scene wider and accessible to all over the world and even to those who have an inclination towards art or for those who want to convey a message through this particular medium but do not have resources.

Fig 11: (Above ) Graffiti on wall of Delhi University south campus, showing new face of media in today’s world. Photo Courtesy: Bhawna Chauhan

Fig 11: (Above ) Graffiti on wall of Delhi University south campus, showing new face of media in today’s world.
Photo Courtesy: Bhawna Chauhan

As contemporary art is experiencing such unprecedented prices, it’s natural that street art is gaining value, especially among a generation of people who have grown up viewing it as art rather than vandalism.

Fig 12: (Above ) Wall art inspired with Kalmkari, depicting new generation women in form of shakti at NIFT, Delhi. Photo Courtesy: Bhawna Chauhan

Fig 12: (Above ) Wall art inspired with Kalmkari, depicting new generation women in form of shakti at NIFT, Delhi.
Photo Courtesy: Bhawna Chauhan

But there are other problems too which graffiti writers face like price of good quality spray cans is considerable high in India. But as graffiti is gaining popularity in Delhi many companies are coming forward to sponsor these wall painting events like ‘ Asian paints sponsor wall painting completion In National Institute of fashion Technology, New Delhi during Spectrum (annual fest) in which students come up with contemporary idea related with traditional art forms.’ Similarly many other colleges display their views towards the society through graffiti. Another major issue with graffiti is the life span of this art is very less, with passage of time colors fade away and even if the colors don’t  fade away many art pieces are lost during regular white wash or construction work therefore it’s very difficult to maintain directory of the artwork.

Apart from all other roles which graffiti is playing in Indian society the most interesting is to create interactive public spaces for people and enjoy their personal time which they have lost somewhere because of the  growing fast moving concrete jungle around them and also poses as a nice background for the new selfie generation.

Fig 13: (Above ) WIP - The Street Art Show - is hosted at the largest dry port in Asia- ICD (Inland Container Depot) - in Tughlakabad, New Delhi. This event worked as public space where people come and enjoy each other’s company in presence of art. Photo Courtesy: http://www.gettyimages.in/detail/video/st-art-is-an-annual-urban-street-and-public-art-festival-news-footage/511950282

Fig 13: (Above ) WIP – The Street Art Show – is hosted at the largest dry port in Asia- ICD (Inland Container Depot) – in Tughlakabad, New Delhi. This event worked as public space where people come and enjoy each other’s company in presence of art.
Photo Courtesy: http://www.gettyimages.in/detail/video/st-art-is-an-annual-urban-street-and-public-art-festival-news-footage/511950282

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Books

Choudhary, S., 2014. Street art/Graffiti in Delhi, New Delhi: s.n.

John, L., 2013. abstract graffiti. UK: s.n.

PAN, L., 2015. Aestheticizing public space. Bristol, UK: intellect books.

Videos

St+Art Delhi, 2014 :: Street Art Festival : Week 2. 2014. [Film] New Delhi: Now Delhi.

St+Art Delhi, 2014 :: Street Art festival :: Week 1. 2014. [Film] New Delhi: Now Delhi.

St+Art Delhi, 2014 :: Street Art Festival: Week 3. 2014. [Film] New Delhi: Now Delhi.

Walls of the World 1: India. 23/03/2015. [Film] s.l.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxIchASJtfc.

Wall Art – In the Quest for Indian Graffiti. 2013. [Film] Directed by filmsmith house. s.l.: youtube.com/watch?v=NH5N1F0-9XQ.

Daku – he rising star of Delhi. 2014. [Film] Directed by BBC News. s.l.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mh1UNKaE9IY.

Interviews

Ambrogi, G., 2016. Festival curator, St-art foundation [Interview] (April 2016).

Kureshi, M. H., 2016. Art Director , St+Art Foundation [Interview] (April 2016).

Nauriyal, A., 2016. Content Director, St+art foundation [Interview] (April 2016).

thomas, T., 2016. Project Director, St+art foundation [Interview] (April 2016).

Movies

Bomb It. 2007. [Film] Directed by Jon Reiss. USA: s.n.

Infamy. 2005. [Film] Directed by Doug Pray. USA: s.n.

Wild Style. 1983. [Film] Directed by Charlie Ahearn. USA: s.n.

(This is a research article originally written by the authors as part of an academic project and has been published here with their consent.)

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