Can Urban Art Gain Mileage in India?

Posted on September 4, 2010

By Shraddha Sankhe:

Some months ago when I witnessed one Mumbai’s elite school’s bus being ‘ruined’ by its own gang of school boys-I was caught by surprise. Ruined here, I meant, spray painted in black, blue and purple colored graffiti. To add to the rising ‘culture’ of graffiti by Aerosol paint (also called spray paint) and with the initiative of the art professionals and enthusiasts of the city, the streets of Bandra, Dadar in Mumbai were painted in graffiti as a style of art that relates to cities and city life during the Kala Ghoda festival of Mumbai. That brings us to a form of art much younger in its form-the Urban Art.

“The term ‘urban’ art” according to the Osnat Fine Arts’ description “means ‘from the city’ which is derived from the Latin word ‘urbanus’. It is created by artists living, depicting or experiencing city life. The subject is often people living in city and also city building and transportation. Urban Art is the rawest form of graffiti. The term graffiti” comes from Itlalian word ‘graffio’ which means ‘to scratch’. Graffiti is related to gang related tagging of territory and means of getting attention but it is also associated with human with a need to express themselves. Some of the earliest forms of graffiti are the tribal inscriptions of early man on stone hence, the definition ‘to scratch’.”

Each city has its own style in every respect — food, society, culture, and street art. Street art, a tamer name for graffiti artists whose work has garnered the respect of fanatic art-lovers and simple city-dwellers alike, can refer to urban artists, graffiti artists with a reputation, video artists, and even those whose work has graced white gallery walls.

There’s not much of an urban art scene in India — at least not as its known to be in other parts of the world. Barring metros like Mumbai and Chennai, urban art is yet to be considered and looked up on in other parts of the country. There are a couple of artists making urban art. Jenny Bhat is one of the first urban artists from India. Globally, London, Berlin, New York and Los Angeles are the hot-spots of urban art. Buff Monster, Krah, Kenny Scharf, Ben Frost and Chiho Aoshim are among some popular urban artists.

Often, Urban art has found itself in much controversial situations, in India and globally. Urban art is closely associated with vandalism as it may be used as a form of expression on the street walls, building compounds, buses and other surfaces of private ownership. Josh Barbanal says, “Gentrification can sometimes raise complex emotions”. For the artist–urban art is an inexpensive, expressive form of art. But for the people who’ve had their property “ruined” could have to shell out a hefty sum for repairs/repainting -all for some one’s ‘passion or pass-time’.

Moreover, urban art is used in Mumbai and Delhi as a means of cheap advertisement. Often the spray painted graffiti of words ‘Bean Bag? Call now!’ ads are seen on every other pillar, wall and surfaces which sometimes specifically mention-‘Stick no bills’. This phenomenon has won many accolades for the advertisers for their low cost campaigns but has also received flak for their irresponsible behavior towards the city. For decades, urban art was considered a nuisance in the cities-not only in India but the world over. It was around the mid 1990s that got the governments and public authorities of the world accepted the urban art as a valid form of an art that had its birth and boom in the 1970s.

In the current scenario, most urban art on public surfaces is less condemned and looked upon as a thing of ‘local culture’.  Urban art on private property, nevertheless, still maintains a strain of ‘vandalism’. If encouraged and looked up on with the right spirit, those schools boys, I mentioned above, could take up art as a means of expression much seriously than destroy their school property!

J J School of Art in Mumbai offers a degree in illustration and graphic design.

Photo by hijukal / courtesy Flickr

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