By Shruti Sonal:
A few days ago I came across a news article about an NGO that created a life-size art installation of an anaconda in Bangalore, to highlight the issue of potholes in the city, which often prove hazardous to human lives. Graphically portraying a bloodied human hand in its mouth, the installation attracted quite a lot of attention from both the public and civic authorities. A joint effort by six artists of Namma Bengaluru Foundation, the installation followed the creation of a 12 foot long fibre crocodile earlier in June in the same city. This unique way of protest had turned out to be successful as authorities from Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) covered the pothole with concrete the very next day.
These stories inspired me to pause and take notice of the various forms of street art and graffiti around me. While I had passed various graffiti splashed over the walls of North Campus every day, this time I decided to take a hand pulled rickshaw instead of the usual battery driven ones and clicked few pictures.
As I moved around, taking in the bold splash of colours, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by a form of art that has often been termed as “vandalism“. In modern times, street art has been used as a form of expressing oneself against the oppressive nature of the states, best eternalized in the Berlin Wall, which remained filled with graffiti as long as it stood. A popular message that remained painted across the wall was “No More Walls, No More Walls”.
1970s onwards, it gained popularity in America and Britain, filling up subways and neglected walls, forming an important part of the anti-war, civil rights and feminist movements. By the 1990s, it soon became associated with “punk culture” and transformed into a platform to express resistance to various forms of subjugation and segregation in various countries around the world.
In India, the entry of street art, has been a relatively recent one. Battling legal authorities and civil apathy, it has found its way out of shady subways and emerged in public view. The medium has not only been used to bring to notice fallacies but also enrich the cultural face of cities. Today, many metro cities like Mumbai and Delhi have street art festivals, using the medium to beautify the slums and highlight issues of social importance. Similarly in Srinagar, recently a group of young artists were commissioned by the municipal authorities to fill up the blank spaces with murals, highlighting the life in an average Kashmiri household. Many feel that it is an attempt to counter the “pro-freedom” graffiti that have emerged on the walls in the conflict zone, targeting the armed forces and the government.What is it that leads to the popularity of street art? In order to find out, I requested the rickshaw wala to stop, look at the following graffiti and tell me the meaning behind it.
Without hesitating, he told me that it gave the message of respecting all religions. Replacing the complicated words one reads in the newspapers and hears in the noisy debates of television with a dash of spray paint, graffiti gives us important messages that are crucial to understanding the world around us. Moreover, instead of compelling one to especially visit a museum or gallery in order to appreciate and interpret art, it is accessible to all. All one needs is an observant eye and a sensitive heart, in order to take home a thought.
One can only hope the government commissions more artists and allots specific stretches of walls, in order to allow the street culture to flower. A stricter regulation of acts of vandalism in public places and historical monuments along with provision of greater spaces for the expression of thoughts will go a long way in enabling more splashes of colour on the walls.