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Stencil and sensibility

Meet the young artists who invest their personal resources to funk up Mumbai’s walls with striking street art.

art and culture Updated: Aug 03, 2012 15:51 IST
Namrata Bhawnani
Street Art

While Mumbai’s aesthetic can best be described as shanty-chic, a few determined artists are giving the city’s drab walls some coolth. In 2008, the Wall Project initiative gave Tulsi Pipe Road some character and set off a chain reaction. The buzz inspired commercial artists, students and expat street artists to take up a spray can for creative expression. These artists are self-funded and self-driven, but is there a method to the mural madness?

An endless canvas
While Mumbai’s walls are begging for a facelift, the process starts with artists seeking permissions from the building’s residents or shopowners. Tony Peter and artist Ranjit Dahiya, the founder duo of the Bollywood Art Project (BAP), that has painted the latest Rajesh Khanna mural at Bandstand Promenade, say that once you’ve shortlisted a wall for its size and visibility, permissions from residents aren’t tough to get.

Artist Jas Charanjiva, whose Monkeys and Mooch Baba characters funk up Chapel Road, likes shaded and slightly decaying walls to paint on. She approaches Joahaz Viegas of the Wall Project who gets permissions from the building’s residents around Chapel Road. He says, “I co-ordinate with artists and show them the available walls. I’ve grown up here and it’s not hard to convince the locals once you show them what you intend to do.” Bandra residents have embraced the idea easily since the works add to the character of their neighbourhood.

The art is spreading beyond Bandra as artists like Dhanya Pilo of The Wall Project are in the planning process for prettifying Chembur and Versova. Another young artist, Zake, who has 15 works across the city, is the proud creator of a mural in Kharghar.

Here today...
The temporary nature of the art excites Jas, as there is always new work to look forward to or give the old graffiti a facelift. Ranjit adds varnish to enamel paint so that the murals last longer. Good quality spray paint is weatherproof and the work can last for 8-10 years, but most artists aren’t terribly concerned about the temporary nature of their work.

For most artists, street art is a labour of love. Budding graffiti artists Dizy and Zake are students, while another artist Sun1 (that’s the name he goes by) gave up his job as a trainer in a call centre to work as an artist.

While Ranjit uses enamel paint, younger artists use spray cans used for cars. Sun1 says, “Earlier, we imported spray cans from Spain and they reached us via Delhi. It’s an expensive hobby but it’s an addiction.”

But it’s worth it
The costs can be prohibitive, but the ‘hobby’ often pays off. Jas is occasionally commissioned by an imaginative store for a mural, while BAP balances commercial design work and their passion. Tony, BAP’s co-founder, says, “We’ve been approached by brands, but they insist on displaying their logos, which would defeat the very philosophy of indie art.”

Exchange programmes like the Indo-German Hip-Hop Project, in collaboration with Sound Curry that facilitates urban arts projects, helps budding artists. Director of Sound Curry, Kenneth Lobo, says, “The Indo-German Hip-Hop Project is an urban arts collective. Since 2010, it has organised mural painting sessions and exchange projects with musicians and artists from Germany.”

BAP hopes to publish a ‘Making of...’ coffee table book, while young artists like Zake and Sun1 have travelled to Berlin on an exchange programme. Jas concludes that street art is a great way to self-promote, hook up with like-minded and international artists and connect with people outside daunting galleries.

The muse
Ranjita has painted three murals (Big B and Rajesh Khanna at Bandstand and an Anarkali mural at Chapel Road) to celebrate 100 years of Indian cinema. He has been engaging with cinema for years as he used to paint film posters in Delhi. For Jas, the focus is now moving from characters to street design: “New and freshly painted art over faded graffiti is a nice contrast.”