Get off your Facebook wall and take a look around. Chennai’s street art scene is thriving and how!
We talk to two independent artists who tell us how the artform is a versatile medium and serves as a documentation of the times we live in.
THE CORE IDEA behind any street art is to make the passers-by stop, take it in and think about it. They save you from the monotony and vapidness of the hundreds of hoardings that take up space in our field of vision. With the cities emptier and nights quieter than usual, street artists have had free reign during the lockdown. While international street art icon, Banksy, stayed on top of his game with his pandemic artworks (Sneezing Woman, being the latest), Colombian graffiti artist Stinkfish continued his style of taking pictures of strangers and stenciling them to walls using bright colours. Meanwhile, we also saw AnonyMouse, the highly secretive art collective based out of Sweden, come up with four elaborate installations (a pavement-level record store, a pharmacy, a student dorm, and a harbor — all whittled down to mouse-scale). While the genre may have had its origins that date back to the World War II era, in the 21st century, we find that this visual art form is used for everything from movie promotions, disease awareness to showing appreciation for the frontline workers.
Closer home, we have Delhi-based artists Hanif Qureshi, Akhlaq Ahmed, Yogesh Saini, and Munir Bukhari who have worked on murals themed around the pandemic. From frontline workers in masks to the plight of migrant workers, the artists have reflected pandemic times in vivid illustrations across the country — including streets of Mumbai, Chennai, Patna and several other cities.
Dramatic murals are not new to Chennai since the work at Kannagi Nagar earlier last year when St+art India Foundation, with the help of 16 artists from across the world transformed the locality to one of the city’s first art districts. With work in progress evident on the walls bordering the road in Indira Nagar to fascinating murals promoting a popular film — we talk to two independent artists who tell us how the artform is a versatile medium and serves as documentation of the times we live in.
Stories of hope
A drive by Chennai’s Indira Nagar Railway Station will find you staring at the giant mural of a man and a woman’s smiling faces set side by side. Titled We Are, the work on this wall began on World AIDS Day last year, where the St+art India Foundation has collaborated with TANSACS, Tidel Park Chennai, and Southern Railway, while supported by Asian Paints. The mural, we learn, aims to de-stigmatise the disease while sharing hopeful stories of survivors.
Spreading the message of shared humanity through this work, We Are is the work of street artists Siddharth Gohil and A-Kill. “Art has played a central role in creating AIDS awareness from the very beginning. It has been pivotal in delivering messages, expressing feelings of longing, loss, solidarity and collective responsibility. Traversing the idea that there is no outward manifestation of the disease, and that we are all in this together whether or not we live with it, St+art proposes portraits of people that are celebratory and empowered. Building a community of commitment and shared responsibility is the focus of the approach. Therefore, these faces will be diverse yet familiar,” says Siddharth who goes by the street name Khatra.
The Delhi-based artist tells us that although the mural was supposed to be completed in 20 days, it got delayed due to the unprecedented rains in the city. He adds, “The red ribbon, which is an international symbol of AIDS awareness will be seen running through the station facade. The colour red was chosen for its connection to the idea of passion — not only of anger but also that of love. Therefore, the colour palette will be motivational and reinstill ideas of what global solidarity means.”
He further adds, “This is an era of digital art and cutting edge graphic design but still we seek something extraordinary and I guess street art and installations fill that gap. Seeing and experiencing something painted on a 100 ft wall in person can never give you the same experience on a small screen. Street art creates a visual environment and starts a dialogue consciously and unconsciously. You might miss something important while scrolling on-screen but I bet you cannot miss a huge colourful mural while walking down the street.”
Magic & Maara
Chennai has always been known for its obsession with the silver screen and the R Madhavan and Shraddha Srinath starrer, Maara, brings it to the streets, literally. Amazon Prime Video, as part of their promotions, tied up with independent artist Chris Blair Vincent (Silverbrush Studio), who within six days, created three street art installations in the city. “Amazon approached me to paint these large murals for Maara, as part of their promotions. I had a discussion with director Dhilip Kumar and Amazon reps, whose brief to me was to watch the trailer, and create art for the audience so that the viewers could connect with the movie,” shares the 27-year-old artist based out of Kerala.
Chris explains, “I came up with three concepts in three prime locations in Chennai — Besant Nagar, Egmore and Valasaravakkam. The art was designed considering the location in mind. For instance, the one in Besant Nagar that portrays the flow of the sea, was inspired by Maara’s title design as well as the insights that I got from the movie’s trailer. ”
“The second design, titled Book of Magic is done on a four-story building in Valasaravakkam and shows a stack of books, with birds, flowers, and butterflies coming out of it — depicting a portal to the magical world that’s shown in the movie. The third one was conceptualised around Maara’s life — which involves art, adventure and his quest to explore,” he adds. We ask Chris why he thinks such projects are important and he responds, “I connected with this project as an artist because it was bringing back the culture of hand-painted advertisements that is dying slowly. I personally know a lot of senior painters who used to survive on painting boards and lettering and are now struggling to survive. I am very thankful, for project will bring hope to them. Besides, we need more colours in our cities, making art more accessible to the common crowd. At a time when art is becoming expensive to see and feel, such projects are a great initiative to reach a wider audience.”