The proverb "Deewaro ke bhi kaan hote hai" (even walls have ears) has been etched in our minds since childhood. Though we cannot tell exactly from where this proverb came from, we can tell you this: every wall has a story to tell.
Street art in India and values attached to it have changed over time: from wall arts that screamed revolution against the establishment to connecting aesthetic values to them.
The beginning: India did not have a starting point that can be pinned as the beginning of the street art culture here. However, between the 1960s and the 90s, West Bengal saw the uprising of street art as a form of resentment against the establishment. The artwork varied from charcoal drawings of Naxalites killed by the police to psychedelic portraits of Indira Gandhi.
Even though the trend of street art and murals slowed down in other parts of West Bengal, Kolkata picked up the trend very fast in the late 2000s.
Today, the trend is rising with more artists coming to the streets to display their talents on the ultimate canvas for them: Walls.
For artists, painting on the walls is the ultimate form of challenge; it means having the audience ready to give you spot-on feedback.
“I think my biggest achievement was when I was called for Prime Miniter’s Mann Ki Baat, ” said Yogesh Saini, founder of Delhi Street Art, while talking to DailyO. Mr Saini was describing the time when he was called on PM Narendra Modi’s talk show, Mann Ki Baat, and was recognised for his efforts in making an area more appealing by painting the walls in support of India's Swachh Bharat Mission.
What started as a hobby outside of engineering career for Yogesh in 2013, with just wanting to paint some dustbins in Lodi district, has now more than 2000 artists attached to the cause. Delhi Street Art is one of the businesses that has played a leading role in developing a street art appreciation culture throughout India and not just in Delhi.
Stories and all the walls: Most artists today prefer working on the streets rather than in some fancy art museums. Senior artists Rahul Chauhan and Raj Kanojiya have been involved in Delhi street art for the past eight years, and for them, the immediate gratification that comes from working in public and receiving feedback from bystanders is sufficient.
It is not all easy.
"Not all the feedback is good. Sometimes people are agitated by looking at us working and ask us why we are working here, especially if it is a socio-political message we want to give," says Rahul.
Unique styles emerging up: The style in which street murals and graffiti have evolved even in India is marked noticing. UFO crew, a graffiti crew, has gathered a lot of attention because of its unique pop-culture painting in India. The crew was started by two young boys who go by the street name Zero and Bongster as a hobby to explore the city and paint walls to ‘feel like superheroes’. However, with time they started giving more attention to social causes and they spread awareness through their work.
Bongster, while talking to DailyO, said: “A lot of new people are coming into graffiti. The style is becoming more mature and maybe in future India will have its own graffiti style.”
Challenges faced by female artists: The paintings on the walls that these artists paint often give a strong message of feminism, still painting on the streets as a woman in the streets is no piece of cake.
Yahsika Gupta, mother of two, has been working with DSA for the last six years, says she does not feel unsafe because she “works with a team”. However, she does think access to clean restrooms while working is a problem that she constantly faces.
Anpu Varkey, a female artist who works solo and has been in this industry since 2013, has a different experience in this. For her, working as a female artist on the street means working with pre-conceived prejudices and stereotypes.
"Men have not seen women in ladder. They would often bring their children and say Yeh dekho larki jaise dikhne wala painter (A painter who looks like a woman),” says Anpu.
This however does not stop Anpu to work on the streets, and having new experiences.
Today, several artists believe that working with clients who get involved in the creative process impacts their creativity. Artists like Apnu who work solo believe some of their best works come when they are asked to envision their project on their own.
Jyotsana Arya, who is working with DSA as an artist and event coordinator, says: "Working with a client and getting them to understand the ideology behind the wall design is a difficult task. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes they are rigid and want to have their own perspective on the wall, which makes our job difficult. "