Monday, August 4, 2014

Wall art in Shahpur Jat, Delhi

Last week I photographed this piece of wall art in Shahpur Jat Village. It's a techno-fitted goose with a metallic beak and armour; and there's a sort of Alibaba-esque girl in a cape riding it. Maybe it's a boy. I can't tell for sure. It's by Aerosol Assasins, and they call it Samsam.
The Samsam goose wall is very close to my office, where we have been witnessing the neighbourhood change for the past 4 years. From a rustic village with buffaloes, Shahpur Jat has morphed into a new hip location with boutiques and cafes. This wall art is part of the new hipness. Here's another one, by Mattia Lullini, an Italian artist (photo from his website):
Interesting huh? Certainly spices up what is otherwise a very sorry-looking collection of badly maintained residences. There's lots more stuff like this, all over the village. You can see it here. http://st-artdelhi.org/ The artwork on walls has been done by visiting artists, both Indian and international.

Whenever an outsider decides to go into a neighbourhood and spruce it up, we immediately run into the issue of agency. To me the important question in wall art is always - Whose wall is it? Whose choices are these? What power issues are at play? Agency is everything.

I can't help thinking that the locals (i.e. the original residents of the village) probably prefer art that is more in keeping with their own traditions. We see great wall art all over Rajasthan, UP, etc. Here's the most photographed elephant wall art in Udaipur:
I also really loved this representation of Hanuman in Jaisalmer, outside the Hanuman Temple. I wonder which artist did this.
I've spotted some incredible wall art all over India; plastered on humble mud-huts sometimes; and sometimes decorating havelis and temples. This one is from one of the alleys at Varanasi:
My personal opinion is that traditional stuff like this would have probably worked better for the local residents of Shahpur Jat and made them feel this was a real "beautification of the neighbourhood" (which is what St. Art calls this project). Not to mention, it would have kept some traditional artists employed.

But this project was not commissioned by locals. They didn't pay for it. That immediately changes things, doesn't it? They were asked to lend their walls for a free beautification project. Maybe the goose with the metallic beak is something that the flat-owner didn't really want. Maybe he just figured he was getting something for free; and decided to not look a gift horse in the mouth. Maybe he hates it now; then again, maybe he loves it now.

Actually nothing about art is straightforward. What is "modern art", anyway? Art is not static. It's not as if we can draw a line between "modern" and "traditional" Indian art. That Hanuman painting on the wall of Jaisalmer temple is pretty funky / modern if you ask me. I know that probably *everyone* in Shahpur Jat loves this one of  'Fearless Nadia' by Ranjit Dahiya:
All art is a commentary about the world we see around us; interpreted through our individual lenses. The techno-goose is one such commentary; so is the gorgeous Nadia, and so are Lullini's weird snakes. The new generation in Shahpur Jat probably doesn't think the same way as their parents; maybe they like looking at art that rebels, or art that provokes. We should not be rejecting contemporary expressions of aesthetics; or we'll just stagnate.

1 comment:

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