Illustrating what is important, one graffiti at a time

By Apoorva Mandhani

Image Credits: Unsplash/Jon Tyson

“Blank walls are a shared canvas and we’re all artists.” ?Carla H. Krueger

Since its contemporary birth in 1960s Philadelphia, graffiti has as much been viewed as mindless vandalism, as it has been appreciated for its positive ephemeral role within the urban environment. Nevertheless, artists have found their own safe havens in several cities, expressing themselves on any canvas that they can get their hands on. A fleeting look through Bombing Science, a website devoted to all things graffiti, would show that India is not far behind.

Art in Indian cities blooms in the unlikeliest of places. The city’s intrepid artists have turned several housing colony compounds, flyovers, gardens and even railways stations into a canvas. Here are a few such instances when artists decided to paint different cities with colours of awareness to highlight the issues that matter:

1. Makeover for Bombay Railway Stations

Since the revamp began a few years back, several stations in Mumbai have received colourful makeovers, with staircases, walls, overhead bridges and ticket windows covered in vibrant colours. The project began with the aim of endowing a sense of ownership on the commuters, hoping that it would discourage them from littering the stations. However, it has since transformed into a medium for propelling social messages, ranging from saving of the girl child to environmental protection.

Besides these, artists have covered several other parts of the city with social messages as well. For instance, the art at the police colony in Sewri reminds the city of one of the earliest women reformers of the last century? Savritribai Phule. The artists have, therefore, been bringing a note of hope and cheer in the otherwise grim surroundings, providing a respite to the onlookers amidst the face-paced strides that the city demands.

2. Mermaid in a pothole

At a time when most Bangaloreans were busy blaming the authorities for the pothole-ridden roads last year, Mr Baadal Nanjundaswamy decided to take matters into his own hands and painted a pothole blue, with Kannada actor Sonu Gowda emerging out of it as a mermaid. Also, this isn’t the first time Mr Nanjundaswamy had turned a pothole into a work of art. In 2015, he had created a crocodile dummy emerging from a waterlogged pothole, and had dotted a sewage-filled crater with artificial lotuses.

The initiative has garnered mixed reactions, with some lauding the artist for trying to shed more spotlight on the matter, and others criticizing the move, claiming that it would worsen the congestion in the area. Nevertheless, it has been successful in drawing attention to the state of Indian roads, which more often than not leave much to be desired.

3. Yoga, inclusivity and public art

The Indian capital of Delhi has had quite a few of its walls adorned with soul-stirring graffiti art, all thanks to the St+Art India foundation. The NGO has been working on art projects in public spaces to make art accessible to a wider audience, and is responsible for transforming the Lodhi Colony area of Delhi into India’s very first open public art district. The project acknowledges the positive impact that art creates on a city and its residents, as well as makes an attempt to make people more conscious about their environment. They also intend to work with the Government on more projects to create a sustainable approach towards the Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission).

The New Delhi Municipal Corporation had also, last year, commissioned painting of yoga-themed graffiti on the walls of prominent locations in areas under its jurisdiction, to commemorate International Yoga Day. In fact, during a #NotInMyName protest last year against religion-based violence and hatred, several volunteers had painted walls across Delhi with messages of love and peace.  

Decorating the walls that hold the city together

The country, which is off-late being ripped across its soul on more than just communal lines, is in definite need of a little colour on the physical walls that holds it together. It, therefore, seems timely that vibrant illustrations are blooming in several cities, adorning moss laden decaying walls of old mills and buildings, and depicting vivid tales across chawls in some of their most congested neighbourhoods.