Modern and contemporary art involves creative thinking and originality of conception, more importantly than fineness of execution. In this era of rapidly evolving mediums of expression, several artists have done the unconventional by choosing the ‘concrete jungle’ that is the city, as their canvas. There has been a very noticeable shift from amateur stickers and stenciling to murals and graffiti that often catch our unsuspecting eyes in certain areas of the city where one might not have considered to be a region conducive to art. In India, in particular, street or public art has gained a serious increase in stature owing to the fine artistry involved and the socially and psychologically relevant issues they depict. There has been a surge of street art all over the country, but its presence is felt most strongly in the country’s capital.
The rise of this subculture can be attributed to the Street Art Festival held in Delhi for the first time in the year 2013, bringing together the efforts of a grand community of artists to liven up the dilapidated walls and buildings. In particular, the alleyways of Shahpur Jat and Shankar Market areas in Delhi serve as examples of stunning exhibitions of murals depicting human life and the animal world. Prominent among the artists are The U.F.O crew, ostensibly based in Gujarat, TYLER from Mumbai, YANTR from Assam, and Lucangelo CORV from Kolkata – who challenge conventional notions of street art by introducing a near professional standard of craftsmanship in their works.
The Street Art India Foundation, is in this regard, a one of a kind organization that can also be thought of as an artistic revolution. The organization tries to break free from the limitations of a gallery and bring people closer to the artist’s ideas by using public spaces to demonstrate their art. This not only allows them to express through paint their perspective on issues haunting the backdrop of the societal context, but also gives them an opportunity to bring out the beauty of ordinary life on unimpressive cement walls. This project has made a name for itself internationally by being involved with several art festivals, and has also created India’s first open-air public art district. The Lodhi art district in the heart of Delhi now serves as a platform for over twenty artists all over India, who have filled up the discoloured walls of the area with engaging murals, innovative graffiti, and thought provoking displays. Conquer the Concrete is yet another venture that has been undertaken in Chennai, aiming to bridge the gap between an older generation of wall painters and the new upcoming street artists in the country.
Graffiti in India has a connotation that is distinct from the origins of the art form in America. Graffiti originated in black neighbourhoods of the USA, as an expression of angst and retaliation against racism, it was a politically driven rebellion. It was hence considered ‘anti-art’ – an act of vandalism that was primarily anti-establishment. In India it is treated as an aesthetic form of art, and although certain graffitis might deal with social issues it is not of the ostensible purpose. A prominent figure in this regard is Anpu Varkey, known for her feline themed murals and graffiti. She highlights the privileged position of the artists who choose spray paint as a medium in India, deconstructing the myth of political rebellion associated with street art.
In using the urban landscape as inspiration, the underground street artists’ movement has seen a growth in the new emerging forms of public art that deviates from stickers and stencils – such as mosaics and 3D art. What seems promising is the fact that the government has been openly supportive of street artists on several occasions in the past, which has given the movement the impetus it needed to become a mainstream art form. In fact, instances of this are visible in the form of the magnificent mural of Mahatma Gandhi painted on the walls of the Delhi police headquarters – an initiative of Street Art India. Perhaps the only downside to this form of art is the lack of preservation of the artworks, but since the canvas is a swiftly developing one, it also gives the artist the opportunity to repaint and recreate their works from a new perspective.