The journey in Shahpur Jat to view St.Art festival is like being on a treasure trail. Even though one knows that the possibility of chancing upon artworks could be at any corner, the feeling of seeing them is full of amazement and admiration. St.Art festival lasted for over two month from 10 January to 23 March putting together a range of activities from murals, exhibition, installations, workshops and film screenings. The first half of the festival was about activating the space at Shahpur Jat by Indian and internal artists creating art on the streets of this urban village in South Delhi. This phase closed with the exhibition, This is not Street Art curated by Giulia Ambrogi. The last phase ended with the Tihar Jail project which included workshops with Tihar jail inmates and writing poetry on the exterior walls of Tihar Jail. The motivation behind the festival was to create new platforms and introduce new kind of artists who thrive on expelling their creative expression in the blatant way of street art.
The first of its kind festival in India is significant in bearing the public-private collaboration. “People here (in Shahpur Jat) are more accepting of art and artists. They don’t ask the profile of an artist. As it is a closed knit community, if one resident agrees to a mural on his wall, then others also agree”, says Hanif Qureshi, initiator and one of the organisers of St.Art. Strictly against vandalism, the participating artists use walls of different shapes and sizes as their canvas with due permissions from the residents of the area. Moreover, the art created is a result of the conversations with the residents and careful observations of artists on the streets of Shahpur Jat.
Calligraphic styles, pixilated characters, illustrations, surrealist creatures and geometric patterns by artists with strong personal style mark different walls all over the Shahpur Jat neighbourhood. The inexorable murals and drawings jump at you because of their size, colours and sheer displacement of location. Painted using stencils, spray paints and rollers, artists have spanned the length and breadth of walls through scaffolding, ladders and even cranes. The local ways of jugaad by hanging down from a jhoola and reaching out from windows and balconies have also been employed.
Street art by Okuda in the lanes of Shahpur Jat (Image Courtesy: Akshat Nauriyal)
Artist Ano in front of his work in Shahpur Jat (Image Courtesy: Akshat Nauriyal)
Hamburg based stencil artist Tona has drawn a child peeping out from the massive wallside. Tofu, another German artist, has developed a unique style of black and white geometric prints. His prints are like optical illusion that change with angle and distance of viewing. Right next to Tofu, Taiwanese artist Andy Yen’s drawing are like an inside view of a human body. The cells, neurons and muscles in a fluid extend themselves in different directions all over the wall. The very dark and brooding stencil art of Alias has a young bullet ridden boy. Stock of a gun is visible from his jeans. On a wall of a dustbin, another stencil by Alias has a boy covering his face with bloodied hands and smiley face drawn on it. Amitabh Kumar’s typical black and white drawings have colourful strands in the abstract drawing of what looks like a shape shifter.
Alina one of the two female artists in the festival, has illustrations of women at a few locations in Shahput Jat. Close to Alina’s wall is painter Anpu’s massive playful mural of a cat with yarn. In true graffiti style, Bond uses calligraphic style to mark his name on walls and even in a classroom of RL Model School. Okuda’s colourful 3-d pops can be seen at various locations.
Film posters have been an important part of the street art tradition in India. Ranjit Dahiya, communication designer and artist has painted famous Bollywood characters as part of the festival. One can see vampish Nadira from Shree 420 with a cigarette holder spread edge to edge on a massive wall.
Indian artist Yantr, famous for the Buddha with gas mask in Khirki Extension, stays true to his name. He illustrates his bio-mechanical drawing. Under this enormous mural, Yantr painted Arjun and Krishna on a chariot from the famous scene of Mahabharta – a drawing added by Yantra upon the requests of locals.
The exhibition, This is not Street Art, part of the festival, brought out the object based artworks of the participating artists. Unlike in Shahpur Jat where street art is true to its form, the exhibition feels like a desperate need to objectify street art in order to fit a gallery definition of art. The street art festival, when on the streets, reasserts the critique of white cube spaces where the space takes precedence over art. By positioning art on streets the festival borrows a lot from the local context and at the same time opens itself to criticism by many more people than in an art gallery. Two works outside Shahpur Jat make us aware of the larger questions related to street art. The Gandhi mural project by German artist Hendrick ECB Beikirch and Anpu, makes a larger than life portrait of Gandhi at the height of 150 ft, on the Delhi police headquarters in ITO. The other one is by Hanif where poetry by Seema Ranghuvanshi, a Tihar inmate, is hand painted in different typographic forms, spreading across 968 m on the exterior walls of Tihar Jail. By the mere positioning of this creative expression on the street, the work emancipates the political from the artistic. The political statement of art on streets has a greater significance in this festival than its endorsement an art exhibition.
Installation view of exhibition This is not Street Art
Top: Artists Hendrick ECB Beikirch and Anpu in front of the Gandhi mural at ITO (Image Courtesy: Enrico Fabian)
There is nothing like chancing upon a mural while walking or driving on the road. Day after day on the same route, some can trace its journey. From the lushness of fresh paint, the colours on the mural slowly fade before they erode and become the background in an inseparable fashion that it becomes hard to understand what it could have meant. Till the next year, when the artists start the next edition of St.Art with fresh ideas and creative expression to give new meanings to boring walls.
This review was first published in Take on Art magazine, July, 2014.