SARAH AHMAD | 27 MAY, 2016
Drenched, dry, fierce, street lives, forty five degrees-bake, burn, tremble; the left of blue and red, the right of starless masks, the treads unequal, our lives often met, near street side fences and blackened by lane stretches, of lonely, plain, incandescent crimes.
I had walked past that wall a few days back, it was white, barren, bare, yesterday it had notes of colour, a ladder, tins of paint by colour laden brushes and spray cans, now it had an audience, then a structural exterior wall, carrying the burden of a two storey residential building.
Parts of the capital city have been transformed into creative landmarks and districts of art, placing emphasis on the visual and the viewer, a constant dialogue between the passer-by and the art work on a massive canvas of bricks and mortar; road signs, cars and people becoming a part of this creative experience.
The Street Art Festival’s third India edition in India saw the Lodhi colony in New Delhi transform into screens of mythological spots, architectural illusions, shadow games and social messages. From Nafir’s mural raising a voice against the subjugation of women in India and Iran, to poetry painted on a wall by Artist Niels Show Meulman, Rakesh Kumar Mermot’s mural painted in the Gond art tradition, to a typographic piece titled ‘Time changes everything,’ by Daku, the Lodhi Art District, as it is called now, is an amalgamation of colour, memories, idols and tidings.
An image of Nadira stares back at you as you walk past a busy Delhi street in Shahpur Jat. Bringing back the essence of an independent woman in the 50s the image depicts a shot from the 1955 film, Shree 420, starring Florence Ezekiel Nadira. “Every mural I paint, is a depiction of my love for Bollywood while growing up, and the Bollywood I would like to share with the people,” says Ranjit Dahiya, a Mumbai based Artist, and owner of the popular Bollywood Art Project. “This image of Nadira, I painted, speaks to the people of Delhi, a powerful painting of a woman with attitude.”
“Street art is accessible to the common man, however the challenge lies in attaining permits for the walls that need to be painted and the risk one faces while painting large walls, a few storeys high; the passion to paint and the joy of painting among the public overrides all the tests one faces.” Ranjit Dahiya is a renowned street artist, much like his subjects, is a superstar when he is working, making casual conversations with admirers and passers-by on his art works.
From movie stars to public art permits, there lies a chapter in public art that defines it more elaborately. “Public art pieces are landmarks, which need no curation,” says Tyler. Tyler as he signs his name on his wall murals is a Mumbai based street artist who uses stencils. “Because I use stencils, I can get done in under a minute and be out of there,” he exclaims. “One needs to plan more than an artist who is painting legally, we need to watch for police movement, civilians, watchman and need to camouflage ourselves so that nobody sees us painting on street side walls.” For Tyler who paints typography to imagery, art is all about risks, “Detailing and drips of paint are the least of my concerns,” he adds.
While the artist paints a canvas, he soaks his brush into turpentine oil, wipes it clean, rolls a dab of paint and slides it across a plank of white; he also paints parts of his life, often buried in studio spaces and behind modest colonnades. When a piece of art is created, displayed or exhibited in open public spaces, on lush lawns or terra firma, on concrete and pasted across craggy walls, it becomes an art for the people, often reflecting the urbanity it survives in, getting interpreted through constant public parlance.
Graphic designer, Illustrator and Street Artist, Harsh Raman, points out how gallery spaces are a lot dependant on money and selling art while public art is all about talking to the public, spreading social messages and creating appealing art works for people to interpret. “One cannot always talk about death, or sex in a public space, a gallery show gives you that freedom, public art is a much more fresh, meaningful approach to a creative space; religion, culture and society often becoming the talking points in an art.”
He adds “In a country like India one needs to expose more people to art in public spaces, art that does not speak the same language as an advertising hoarding, selling a want or a need, but rather talking about life in a more reflective way, making the audience comfortable yet making one re-think about the world one lives in.”
From installations to memorials, quirky structures, to abstract buildings, massive murals painted on walls, public art is often a permanent exhibition of art to be viewed by an audience. The Statue of Liberty in New York, to portraits carved out of stone in South Dakota, United States, from Gaudi’s unique architectural art in Barcelona, to commissioned art pieces at public spaces, public art forms have been taking shape as classic, abstract, modern day structures and creative stories being influenced by the community it is developed in.
Anshuman Sen, a noted photographer, published author, entrepreneur and a visual artist has exhibited his photographs and art at various gallery shows, and he often travels to see, capture and create art. He opines “Expressing art on community platforms depends on what the art is all about, if it is situational or reactionary. Sculpture lends itself quite well to public spaces, whereas with paintings there could be a problem of glass, reflections and lighting conditions.”
He further explains “It’s more about how the artist and the curator perceive his/her work and not about how art in public places compares to those in gallery spaces. Sometimes we like to show off our new acquisition and sometimes only show them to a selected few, thus exhibitionism itself is a vast grey area.”
The curator carries the content into a particular gallery, the art works becoming temporary specimens integrating with a permanent space. Public art could be a temporary or a permanent structural or painted entity on a city street or park, an installation that serves as a landmark or several art pieces being displayed around art districts and street corners.
“My art represents both public art as well as art in curated gallery spaces, for me, public art has always been about bringing art closer to the people and making it an integral part of the natural surroundings,” states Atul Sinha, who often collects and reclaims scraps of wood and barks in his travels through the hilly regions of India and sculpts pieces of art with them.
Atul Sinha is a renowned sculptor and painter, based in New Delhi. “My last workshop was based on the preservation of the environment, at Daly College, Indore and Assam Valley School, Tezpur. Hence for me public art is art for the masses, encouraging the preservation of environment as well as the social and historical values of a society, and representing a regional cultural milieu which helps to enrich public places with art forms,” he explains. “I worked on the concept of ‘Resurrecting from the dead’, working on dead unrooted trees and making them a significant work of art, giving them a new life.”
He further adds, “The public art pieces become permanent structures and eventually cultural landmarks, on the other hand gallery spaces act as a structural mass that caters to the genre of a few who create demand and supply for art of their choice.”
While studio artists paint and practice their art in their own creative spaces, street artists practice in the public, becoming an integral part of the story of a space, the art being influenced by the time and place it is painted at.
As we walk past street signs, enter galleries to find unique pieces of art, walk on paths only to find canvasses of colour and imagery, we become a part of an artist’s dwelling, being observed, being painted; viewing, creating lives around art, art around life.