Defying Graffiti

(Published on January 31, 2014 in Time Out Delhi)

Delhi hosts its first-ever street art festival with local and international artists

A beautiful story is unfolding on the walls of our city. Its barren, decrepitand pockmarked face is set to get a makeover, courtesy St.ART Delhi, the city’s first-ever street art and graffiti festival in February.

At the core of the festival is a painting activity wherein as many as 40 walls in south Delhi (predominantly in areas such as Shahpur Jat, Hauz Khas Village, Malviya Nagar and Khirkee Village and Extension) will be adorned with signature murals of Indian and international artists such as Daku, Mattia Lullini, Tofu, Okuda, Yantr and ECB Hendrik Beikirch.

One the first artists to unveil his work is Anpu, a Delhi street artist specialising in stencil graffiti, who will paint a huge grey cat playing with a pink ball of wool on one of the walls in Shahpur Jat. Many of the other artworks can be spotted around this neighbourhood, though two very prominent sites awaiting a face-lift are the walls of Delhi Police headquarters, and the interior and exterior walls of Tihar Jail. The onus of painting the former is upon ECB Hendrik Beikirch, a noted German street artist, the creator of Asia’s tallest mural, a 230-feet portrait of a fisherman in Busan, South Korea. The walls of Tihar will be painted by Daku, one of the city’s most recognised graffiti and street artists, with help from jail inmates. “There wasn’t a set structure or format and we wanted to go with the flow,” said Hanif Kureshi, the brain behind St.ART Delhi. “An open call for crew and artists was made and the response was overwhelming. So far, we have 40 confirmed street artists and 20 graffiti artists from India and abroad.”

To go with this enthusiasm, an exhibition opens on February 1 at Gallery Social Space in Hauz Khas Village, where select works by artists from around the world can be viewed. Several other activities running parallel to the exhibition include workshops, talks and documentary screenings. Aastha Chauhan, who has been associated with independent art projects in Khirkee Village for almost a decade, will conduct walks aimed at acqua­inting visitors with its burgeoning hip hop subculture. Besides these, organisers will also conduct a Graffiti Jam, a two-day event where nearly 50 artists from all over India and the world get an opportunity to meet, learn about each other’s work, exchange like-minded ideas and eventually work on a single wall together.

Each artist often masters a unique style. While Spanish artist Okuda’s work can be classified as pop surrealism with undertones of existentialism, Tona from Hamburg is a stencil artist who doesn’t mind using waste and trash to bring his imagined art to life. German artist Bond expresses himself using calligraphy; and Brazilian Sé Cordeiro uses characters with strong, striking features. Rubbing shoulders with these stalwarts are several noteworthy Indian artists – Delhi’s Yantr, who uses complex machinery sketches to illustrate wildlife; Mumbai’s Ranjit Dahiya who loves to paint Bollywood posters; and Delhi’s Daku, whose style is marked by typography and lettering, particularly in Devanagari script.

Art in itself is liberal and street art of any form has been looked upon as unruly and rebellious in nature. In fact, very few countries in the world have legalised this art form and India is, understandably, not one of them. Yet, Kureshi and his gang of art enthusiasts were successful in getting a permit to conduct this fest. “The streets belong to no one and yet to everyone,” he said. “People carry on with their lives caring very little about the lifeless walls they cross everyday. Our attempt is to make them notice the mundane by making it interesting. We managed to get permission from the authorities because the intent was noble – beautification of the city.”

St.ART Delhi is the first large-scale urban art festival of India that aims to promote street art and graffiti on the Indian landscape. Yet, it is an experiment of sorts and the organisers themselves are wary of whether they will run into trouble with concerned authorities, despite the necessary permits. They were guarded about the details and it will be announcedintermittently. We can only hope that this will change from next year on.

St.ART Delhi takes place across venues in the city.



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