Street art came into the realm of Delhi’s art festival itinerary in January 2013, with the first ever St+art festival. Who could have imagined that an artistic movement with a humble beginning would grow into such a massive affair as it has. Back in the days, the city was accustomed to the walls that resembled ugliness and filth: remember the walls filled up with posters and painted ads?
It is different today. If one is passing through ITO, the bus stop adjacent to the UGC building where a large students’ protest took place recently, on nearby walls a lot was written during the protests.
Ironically, in the opposite direction, one can see Mahatma Gandhi smiling from the Delhi Police Headquarters, his face half-eclipsed by buildings and trees. The Gandhi mural by German artist Hendrik Beikirch, who was assisted by an Indian artist named Anpu Varkey, was part of the first edition of the Sta+rt festival. Today, many parts of the city have been beautified and transformed by the exuberance of street art. And so the fourth edition of Sta-rt promises to further enhance Delhi’s street-art appeal by transforming Lodhi Colony into India’s first Public Art District. 25 international and Indian artists are participating in the latest edition of the festival.
Lodhi Colony, which has a rich history, was built by the British in 1940 for the purpose of housing government officials. However, the current state of Lodhi Colony is in stark contrast to its rich heritage — some walls are tattered, structures lie bare. St+art India Foundation aims to alter the visual identity of Lodhi Colony by turning it into a contemporary open-air gallery.
“Lodhi Colony is an ideal place to become the public art gallery in the city. Its iconic architecture and perfectly aligned walls serve as a perfect canvas for the artists. With each mural located within walking distance, Lodhi Art District will be the first public space of its kind in the country. Hopefully our initiative will result in the growth of street art in India and will also encourage the younger lot to take up public art as a career,” says Hanif Kureshi, co-founder and artistic director of the festival.
At Block 10 near Meharchand Market in Lodhi Colony, a mural called Dead Dahlias by Amitabh Kumar screams from the wall. According to the artist, the mural is an attempt to create a narrative environment where a painted dog is the narrator. The mural has a historical context too. “The root of the image is a story,” says Kumar, “When the Pandavas lost the first game of dice, they were exiled to Khandavaprastha — the city of ruins. Krishna, who accompanied them from exile, did some magic and turned Khandavaprastha into Indraprastha — the city of gods. Delhi is made of magic, unfortunately it is now falling apart. Through this intervention I’d like the viewer to see its crumbling pieces.”
At Block 9, the Swiss duo Nevercrew has done an incredible mural: a colourful meteorite with an astronaut on top. According to the duo, the work examines the human condition. It delves into the relationship of mankind with nature as well as the relationship between mankind and its nature. The astronaut is actually a metaphor for someone who can see things from a different perspective — a silent viewer of a larger picture.
At Block 7, the Iranian artist Nafir has painted a mural called “Don’t let this symbolism kill your heart”. This mural is influenced by the state of women in the eastern part of the world. Nafir has painted a woman and employed traditional Persian decoration in the mural. According to the Iranian artist, Iran and India are countries where women are still subjugated. His art is a voice against gender prejudice.
Niels Shoe Meulman, a Dutch artist, has painted a poem written by him. A writer for over 35 years, Shoe decided to blend all his artistic influences while creating this mural. He is known for “Calligraffiti”, which is a combination of calligraphy and graffiti — an art form he pioneers in. His love for plants is also evident in the mural. His plants are in the form of traditional Indian brooms made of grass (broomcom) which he has used elaborately in the mural.
With its motto “Art for everyone”, the festival aims to make art accessible to the masses in the public domain. It is also an attempt to encourage people’s engagement in public art and to help them re-imagine the use of public spaces. “Art has been a novelty of the elite for far too long and with the festival we aim to change just that,” says Akshat Nauriyal, co-founder and content director of the festival.
Through Work in Progress (WIP), which is the other half of the festival, St+art India Foundation aims to create an art-hub in order to offer newer experiences to all, especially to those who remain excluded from the reach of art.
Spread over 55 acres, Inland Container Depot (ICD) in Tughlakabad, is all set to be transformed into a walk-through installation. The project will result in embellishment of around 100 shipping containers over a period of two months.WIP elaborates the essence of the ever-changing city that Delhi is and hopes to reconnect art to the daily lives of people, simultaneously highlighting the nature of Street Art as a constant work in progress. The show will stick to a space that will undergo constant transformation by street art — unlike the usual static experience of an art exhibition.
WIP will represent an open lab for invited artists who will work under the public eye during the entire month of February.
The exhibition will be open throughout February from Thursday to Sunday. After the exhibition, the containers shall remain painted and travel across India, transporting goods.