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Street (SM)art

New non-profit initiatives are taking the arts out of formal venues and into public spaces such as cafés, promenades, rail stations. Suprateek Chatterjee writes.

mumbai Updated: Oct 21, 2012 00:57 IST
Suprateek Chatterjee

In a city constantly curbing its citizens’ freedom and expressions, art needs to find a way. Or so says Tushar Joag, a prolific artist who is regarded as a pioneer of bringing art to public spaces in the city. “We need to reclaim our public spaces, which are extremely few to begin with, for the purposes of expressing ourselves freely,” says Joag, 42, who for a decade ran Open Circle, an art collective, until 2008.

A look at three such initiatives launched over the past six months.

National Streets For Performing Arts
Organises free gigs of various genres at railway stations
Launched on: October 8

Ten days ago, on a hot Wednesday morning, commuters on Platform 1 of Borivli station were surprised to hear the soft strains of Hindustani classical music emanating from a spot near the entrance. As a crowd gathered, vocalist Smit Dharia performed a classical bandish accompanied by KK Singh on the tabla.

Some of the commuters looked appreciative, others, perplexed; all were respectfully silent. “It just makes waiting for the train a lot easier,” says Vijay Yadav, a 51-year-old salesman, smiling.

Many of those present assumed it was a one-off event, perhaps part of a rail safety campaign. But the performance was organised by National Streets for Performing Arts (NSPA), a new initiative started by businessman Ajit Dayal.

Dayal, 52, is the founder of an asset management company that sponsors classical music events. In April 2011, he decided he needed to do more.

Since October 8, he has accordingly been organising weekly performances at Churchgate, Borivli and Bandra stations on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays respectively. The musicians are paid a nominal amount.

NSPA project coordinator Anisha George says this is also an effort to revive the Indian tradition of folk music in public places. “Our cities don’t have public spaces designated for art,” she says. “By exposing people at railway stations to different kinds of music, we hope to create a sense of ownership among them.”

Visual Disobedience
Hosts free art events in public spaces and promotes independent artists
Launched on: September 22

Two weeks ago, there was an unusual gathering of about 100 youngsters and expats in a narrow lane in Khar (West). Some were dressed for an evening of entertainment, others had just ambled over from the nearby Gulab Nagar, a middle- and lower-middle-class area. They were all here for a free, public screening of Shekhar Kapoor’s Bollywood classic, Mr India, on a makeshift white screen facing 40 assembled chairs.

The screening was organised by Visual Disobedience, an independent art community launched last month with the aim of taking art out of galleries and making it more accessible to the common man.

“People should know that art needn’t be expensive and esoteric,” says founder Saurabh Kanwar, 37. “We have a Kala Ghoda festival, but that happens only once a year. There should be events like this on a weekly basis, ideally.”

Visual Disobedience already has 49 independent artists under its umbrella. “The community of artists is a lot like the indie music scene — the same vibe, the same variety of talent, similar personalities,” says Kanwar, who runs Visual Disobedience as a non-profit arm of his digital media agency, Flarepath. “All they need is a platform.”

Bollywood Art Project
Paints murals of Bollywood characters and actors on public walls
Launched on: June 3

In 2010, artist and freelance graphic designer Ranjit Dahiya participated in an exhibition at La Rochelle, France, in which he recreated 31 classic Bollywood posters. He was then asked to paint a Bollywood-inspired mural on an apartment building in Paris. “I remember thinking, if I can do that there, why not in Mumbai?” says the 32-year-old.

In May, Dahiya decided to put that plan into action, to mark the 100th year of Indian cinema. He called his initiative the Bollywood Art Project and got a friend, Tony Peter, a visual effects artist, to help him with production, permissions and publicity. On June 3, he unveiled an 11 ft x 22 ft mural of the character Anarkali from the iconic 1960 film Mughal-E-Azam, at Chapel Road in Bandra (West).

Over the next three months, he painted three more murals across the suburb, depicting superstar Amitabh Bachchan, recently deceased actor Rajesh Khanna and Bollywood archvillain Mogambo from the 1987 film Mr India.

The murals have attracted considerable attention and it has in fact become common to see people posing for pictures next to them.

Dahiya, who earns a living through his design agency, Digital Moustache, says it’s because of the universal love for Bollywood that this project has been such a success.

“Getting permission from housing societies to paint on their walls has been a hit-and-miss affair,” he says. “But the police have been very cooperative. When they see what I’m painting, they usually smile with approval.”