Friday, August 21, 2015

The walls are blank

When I joined my office in Shahpur Jat, New Delhi, in February 2014, Israeli graffiti artist Mattiah Lullini was busy mapping the wall in front of our office. This was the site allocated to him to put forward his work. He was part of the international graffiti artists visiting India for the first ever St.Art festival. He had managed to rent himself a ladder for Rs 50 per day but was not happy about it at all. "It was just lying there and this guy is charging me for touching it," he had later rued. It was very difficult to me to explain that the residents of Shahpur Jat had absolutely no idea what he was trying to do and why his painting on the wall was of any significance.

Just over a year later, this piece of work (shown above) is history. I don't mean to get poetic about the loss of art as graffiti is not meant to last forever, I am told. It is important to put the message out. Perhaps that is why I am hurt. The message, so beautifully portrayed by international artists in India, never really got across. The people of Shahpur Jat, Khirkee Village and Hauz Khas village did not give a damn.

"The whispering girls" by Alina Vergnano (above) was showcased in two places in Shahpur Jat. While one was lost to reconstruction, the other was painted over by the jeweller who owns the store. Two of her works have survived in Delhi. One at Connaught place, commissioned by Inlingua School of Languages and the other at the Ogaan shop in Hauz Khas village.

For Alias, the festival was his first opportunity to visit India which he said was a dream come true. A simple man who teaches art in a school near Berlin, he has worked on several noted works on the Berlin wall among others. For his debut in St. Art, he tried his hand at a painting, his first ever. "The boy with the slingshot" is all but faded but brings a smile to my face every time I walk past him.
Alias is famous for his stencil works which depict the loss of childhood, globally. His stencils are graphic and can be very disturbing at times. One such stencil of a young boy with a skull instead of a head/face was objected to as soon as he had put it up in Shahpur Jat. Alias had to scratch out the skull from the image (shown above). Honestly, I don't know which one is more emphatic, a boy with a skull for a head or a boy with his skull scratched out! Alias' style involved stencils hidden in obscure places which reflects the childish fear of boys who have been hurt. Some of his works have survived and I am happy that I know where to find them.

This artwork by Tona (above) made it as the cover of the magazine I work for. It still stands. As I mentioned earlier, painful as death is, the natural fading and loss of graffiti is something I can live with but the brutality with which the residents of Delhi's urban villages have torn down some of the pieces of art, simply because they were painted on walls built by them, is abrasive (to me). The giant sketch of a white cat playing with a ball of yarn was also torn down as a new building has come up.

This stencil, also by Tona I think, has been painted over because the owners were "bored" of it. A plain pink facade is so much more interesting, after all. A beautiful cornerhouse collaboration of several artists has laso ben apinted over by the landlord who felt it was "meaningless". Those who had witnessed the creative collaboration will surely remember stopping in their tracks when they had first noticed it.

My office is finally shifting from Shahpur Jat to a more official space in Central Delhi. That completes the circle for me. From watching the first coat of paint being put on these graffiti to the demise of most of my favourite works, from taking friends on a guided trip to share my excitement on the art form to helping another to create his own guided walk. The walls that once spoke of global emotions, now stare back as blankly as the ones that inhabit them.

I am sure that many ore artists will make Delhi's walls their canvas in the time to come but there will always be a special place in my heart for the ones that dared to be the first and the hurt at losing some of the first-borns.