If eye-popping murals are anything to go buy, the walls in the Capital are witnessing a ‘style war’.
What started as an underground graffiti culture a few years back has evolved into a vibrant street art movement with an array of street artists transforming the city’s public spaces with paints, stencils and spray cans.
Like New York City, a mecca for street artists whose iconic murals attract tourists from all over the world, Delhi too now boasts of its street art hotspots. New colourful paintings emerge on Delhi’s walls in the streets, marketplaces and residential areas.
Lodhi Colony, for example, became the country’s first public art district earlier this year; the walls of Shankar Market in central Delhi too adorn colourful depictions focusing on music, dance and drama. And after the Govindpuri Metro station, where murals were painted recently on the walls as part of the street art festival, Indian Railways commissioned street artists to give a facelift to its long-neglected station Narela in north-west Delhi.
Unlike a few years back when street art was seen as an act of rebellion, many of these big street art projects have the approval of government agencies such as the New Delhi Municipal Council and Central Public Works Department.
“The railways approached us to paint on this historic station which was built in 1890. Seven artists from our group worked on the walls to draw railway-related motifs,” says Yogesh Saini, founder of Delhi Street Art (DSA), one of the city’s better-known street art groups that has been at the forefront of the city’s fast-evolving street art scene. It has painted murals in places such as Shankar Market, Nehru Place and Janakpuri.
Lodhi Colony, which Hanif Kureshi, director of ST+ART festival, calls an open air public art gallery flaunts several massive murals created by artists from all across the world. “The common man cannot relate to art. We believe that art should be more popular and the best way to make that happen is to bring it to streets, where there is no class division,” says Kureshi, one of the pioneers of street art in the city. The murals in Lodhi Colony represent diverse and complex themes such as nature in its various manifestations, origin of the world, migratory birds, space, life and death, among others.
So why is Delhi becoming a canvas for street artists? “Delhi is a large city with diverse geography, culture and history. It has enough wall spaces that lend themselves to all kinds of artistic narratives,” says Kureshi.
The city’s street art scene got a major boost in 2015 when ST+ART India foundation organised its first street art festival. “Art for everyone was the idea behind it. Besides we wanted to change the visual landscape of the city through artistic interventions such as murals and installations,” says Kureshi.
The Capital’s street art scenario got a boost with lot of graffiti and street artists making Delhi their home, says Saini. He is not exaggerating. Delhi is home to a growing community of street artists such as Anpu Varkey, Harsh Raman Singh, Amitabh Kumar, and of course Daku.
Street art has become a medium for conveying messages on social, environmental and gender issues. Artists such as Ashwani Aggarwal, 25, a graduate of College of Art, Delhi have created a whole range of signages to dissuade people from open urination. “Generally, people use messages to shame people and images of gods which cannot be seen in the night. I have created glow stickers that shine at night, conveying this is not a place to urinate,” says Aggarwal.
Many street artists are working with groups such as New Delhi Rising, a community of volunteers, which works to restore and reclaim public spaces. “Walls in north and west Delhi are among the ugliest, thanks to ugly political posters. We remove them and invite street artists to paint those walls,” says Nakul B of New Delhi Rising.
Kureshi says the biggest achievement of the city’s fledging street art movement is that it has democratised art, redefined public spaces, and promoted a dialogue between city and its inhabitants. He says about 25,000 people visited container depot in Tughlakabad, the venue of the street art festival this year, over one month. “I do not think any art gallery can match this figure. A lot of artists now want to display their creations on streets where their works get a larger audience,” says Kureshi.
“You might have a great studio to work and might display your work in a famous gallery, it is all meaningless if no one gets to see it. So street is the most important art gallery.”