“Even if you do not come up with a picture to remove world poverty, you can make someone smile while they are having a piss.” – Banksy
It was a usual sweltering Kochi afternoon and I had just about gotten done with the exhibits at the Biennale. Roaming around the streets, looking for a place to eat, I magically led myself to a lane completely covered with street art. Yep, right there in the middle of the fishing nets and beef curry, were multiple artworks by Guess Who (BBC dubbed them as the Indian Banksy, though they aren’t the first ones to be monickered that) and the Hamburg based street artist Tona, in their own (not so) subtle way trying to prove a point about the status of street art, or, rather, public art in India.
And Kochi is not the only city. From Mumbai to Bundi (honours on guessing which state it is in!), Bangalore to Assam, Pune to Delhi, these street artists, over the last few years, have slowly and successfully begun to make a mark on the artsy Indian subconscious.
At a time when ‘street art’ and ‘India’ don’t sound like they fly together, St+Art India Foundation is making inroads in changing the perception. First-of-their-kind street art festivals were held in Delhi and Mumbai, which saw artists from all over the globe fly down to make the cities more interesting to the eye. From Ranjit Dahiya painting the yesteryears’ movie stars, to Daku’s typography, trance inducing geometrical art by Seikon, to tongue-in-cheek anti-establisharian Tyler, there are several unexpected walls and crannies waiting to be discovered.
While a lot of street art is usually expected to be about political activism, proving a point against societal conventions, most of the street art you’ll see around here is an effort to relegate the status from street art to public art. To make art for a cross section of the diaspora, art that one doesn’t have to pay for, or be able to enjoy only with cheese and crackers. The effort primarily is to introduce the public to a new medium of expression and the response until now has been nothing short of what was expected: massive curiosity as pedestrians slow down a little every time they cross one of these artworks.
We may not have followed Banksy all the way to Gaza, but we sure have managed to garner a few following eyeballs!