Community Art

Whose ‘Art’ is it ‘Anyway’?!

By Nidhi Batra – Sehreeti

Some bits of Delhi and Gurgaon have lately been adorned with ‘urban wall art’. Earlier this year (Dec 2015 – Feb 2016), Delhi (some parts of it) was all decked up with work of artist spanning large walls, buildings and containers! St+art Festival was ‘on’ in the city. As their website says ‘it is a collaborative platform for street artists from India and around the world. It works on the idea of ‘Art for Everyone’ with the primary objective of making art accessible for wider audiences while having a positive impact on society.’


On this celebration of art,  I went for the special event at Tughlakabad container depot where the artists had made interesting works on containers. Inside there was also an event of breaking and popping dance competition, some music and well.. just a party! There was a line to get in, and we had to give our contact details at entrance. What was interesting however ,was what was happening outside this gated entry – the local youth were standing on top of trucks to have a peep of the party inside. Two young boys even tried to enter through the registration line and were shoved off. Art for everyone?

Gurgaon too was all ‘shajoed’ in the times of ‘Happening Haryana’. In this ‘shajawat’ M.G. Road got jazzed up, with something called ‘public art’. Monolithic walls were constructed, on the non – existent footpath and artists, local civil society, RWAs, students were invited to paint on these small brick panels. Interestingly, these art works faced the motorway but were too short to be in the vision of the one driving.  On the other hand, the pedestrian walking on the road might just miss this piece of wall. The panels had whimsical scenes of ducks, some other birds, and well some more art works. At the time of ‘Happening Haryana’, these walls were also decorated as if like an entry to a little home – with two ‘gamlas’ kept next to them or two palm trees freshly planted and a shamiana above the artwork.


With these ‘community art’ projects in our city, I had few reactions:

Besides the restricted entry at Tuqhlakabad for the locals, I personally was just struck with ‘act’ of the art.

On my way to the venue while crossing Khanpur, my partner and I were casually discussing what a large scale ‘wall art’ does in our urban world of over stimuli! In urbanizing India we have every inch of space that speaks. There are banners, hoarding, and multiple signs that just have to butt into your face. We realized that even graffiti would require an ‘ordered’ environment to have an impact. Orderliness- not just in the physical wall surface but also in the act of development. Urban graffiti overtime has acquired the meaning of raising a voice – a rebel in the ‘structured and maybe oppressed’ environment. In India, we have always had the luxury of expressing – walls or otherwise. (the situation might be changing now with the ‘ oh not so tolerant India’)

Also another thought was the relevance of the art. Art should have a positive impact on society- that’s what the brief of St+art also says. I was just wondering what does an astronaut got to do with the ‘society’. In India and well most part of the world, there is an entire practice of making art, rooted deep into everyday stories and culture of the society. Stories have been depicted through walls, motifs and symbolism has been a tool, rituals and festivals have revolved around the ‘act’ of art. Wall paintings have been a medium of visual history of the area, region and mythology. These paintings differ as per geographical and cultural context. In Odisha there are wall paintings that take you through the story of a ‘fish’ or a ‘turtle’ and even educate the fishermen not to do fishing in the times that olive ridley turtles hatch their eggs! The stories always had a purpose. Always had an impact on society. Warli tribals of Thane district in Maharashtra decorate their house walls with paintings depicting their lives: planting saplings, carrying grain, dancing, travelling to market and other routine activities of their daily lives. Symbols of the sun, moon and stars along with plants, animals, insects and birds show their belief in the integration of all forms of life. It is still very common to see many house dwellers in the south of India to clean their front yard in the morning, wet the dry earth and paint a white ‘Kolam’ at the entrance of the house.These forms of art are however slowly getting lost – either due to the new construction medium and also due to the fact that these art practices were practices of ‘community art’. The entire settlement took part in the process of adorning their houses and public buildings. Ritualistic in nature, these art practices got integrated in everyday occasions and festivals.

Invited artist to paint on walls of Lodhi or the small structures in Gurgaon, according to me, do not account for ‘representing’ the community.The relevance of the present playing around with art in Delhi-Gurgaon – in being an ‘Art for everyone’ and ‘Art by everyone’ is therefore debated in my mind. I would love to find the relevance of art that is intrinsic to my culture – and have that up there– triple in its original size- celebrating and helping me find my roots.




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