Leaving One’s Mark

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Graffiti art around Mumbai not only livens up the walls of the city but carries the hopes and dreams of its residents. Eventually, it’s a way to lay claim to the city’s fast diminishing public spaces.

Resistance may have myriad forms but the ones that are almost always more interesting and gratifying are those that possess a lightness of touch and a clarity of intent; a clear sliver of hope and creativity amidst the banal gloom of urban malaise. Such is the case of graffiti on urban public walls.

However, in Mumbai – where graffiti has started to make more of an appearance now than ever before – rarely is it the art of the sloganeering or confrontational type, the sort we associate with street graffiti in New York of the 1980s. Graffiti art in Mumbai seems gentler. It is often an expression of a neighbourhood’s artistic streak – see the walls of Veronica Street and Chapel Road in Bandra West (just off Hill Road) –  and more so, a way for a local community, and particularly its young, to lay claim on the only public space they can still call their own, the streets.

Art on street walls is also seen as a practical way of beautifying an area and trying to keep out the rowdies who plaster walls with cheap posters or mess up a place with spit and urine – see the art commissioned by the Municipality on a 2-kilometre long stretch of wall along Tulsi Pipe Road. Clearly then, graffiti in Mumbai is not so much an act of resistance but really an act of subversion – a way to make the city truly yours.

The following pictures amply demonstrate the qualities described above.

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While it would not look out of place at all in an illustrated book of children’s fables, it’s presence on a wall routinely used as an indiscriminate dumping ground lends it a deceptively simple irony. Its presence on the outer walls of the sprawling St. Stanislaus School in Bandra lends it further relevance.

The most deliciously subversive acts are those commissioned by the establishment. These artworks, produced as a result of an initiative by the Mahindra Foundation and the Standard Chartered bank that allowed artists a full day to do as they wished, while providing them with tools and materials, are living proof. Along Tulsi Pipe road, runs a brick-and-mortar partition separating the road from the tracks. There’s barely a foot of this two-kilometre stretch that’s free of art.

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This cheerfully satirical piece takes the most well-known cliché about the city and re-imagines it in child-like strokes, darkly. It is no co-incidence that the branches of the tree, towering above all else, are gnarled to the point of nakedness. One could, likewise, be forgiven for thinking the branches to be smoke billowing over the cityscape, counterpointed against the rosy sunrise of the backdrop.

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Our local mechanised superhero taking on all foreign ones at once. While its real-life, laterally inverted reflection can hardly care less. A fascinating, mutually complementary set of tableaux.

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A work that gives voice to the most utopian longing that many of us have, expressed in the parlance of our times. The busy swirl of colours and the psychedelic geometry of shapes deftly convey the imminent chaos on the road to utopia.

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Urban alienation with attendant hope and despair.

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Earnest, misguided, discordant and perhaps, a little disingenuous too, this one stands out at once for its oddity and the apparent gravity of its “message.”

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Satire is funny only when it’s ahead of reality. Which it isn’t. At least, not for long. Beyond its obvious scathing humour, the leery proportions of the waiter’s head are what give this image its unsettling edge.

Photos: Aditi Maddali

 

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