A life-sized image of a child peeps from the side of a building, as if hiding from someone. A few metres away, on the side of a three-storey building, there is a large mural of a grey cat playing with a ball of wool.
For the past fortnight, the sprawling urban village of Shahpur Jat has been transformed into a massive canvas where Indian and international artists and graffiti writers have been using acrylic wall paints, distempers, spray cans and stainers on empty walls and spaces. “I ran around for two days looking for the perfect spot,” says German street artist Tona, pointing to his mural of a boy playing hide-and-seek. “I wanted to show what children do when not in school. They like playing hide-and-seek and the mural is right beside a park,” he says. Tona has been part of the street art scene in Hamburg since the early 2000s and is among the 15-20 artists who are part of “St.ART Delhi”, the street art festival.
Though in 2012, there was a similar festival held at Khirki Extension, “the scale and capacity was much smaller,” says Hanif Kureshi, a Delhi-based graphic designer who has organised the festival, “When it comes to street art in India, we don’t have that culture. But there is a lot happening now and the whole scene needed a push.” Leading a team of 30-40 people, Kureshi has partnered with Max Mueller Bhavan, Italian Cultural Centre and Polish Cultural Institute. Some of the participating international street artists include Bond, Tona, Tofu, Tones, Alias, Sergio and Mattiah Lullini. None of them are charging a fee; they have been given raw materials such as paints, brushes, and scaffolds for their art works. The festival is the largest gathering of artists in the genre of street art in the city. While the organisers have got clearance from the Delhi Police and the MCD, the artists are on their own to search for walls to do their murals.
Perched upon a scaffolding on the roof of a two-storey building, artist Amitabh Kumar applies layers of distemper to his 20 ft x 40 ft wide mural of a cloud. “I still have 17 layers left,” says Kumar, as he steps down. “When people open their window they should see more than just somebody’s door or an empty wall. A cloud is never just a cloud, it allows us to see different things in it. The image is not formed by the artist, it is made by the viewer,” says Kumar, who exhibits at galleries and illustrates for the Delhi-based Pao Collective. A take on women’s empowerment, Brazilian street artist Sergio’s mural shows a woman in a pink sari holding a voodoo accessory in one hand and a nail in another. “It is a spin off from the Gulabi Gang,” he says.
Though Shahpur Jat is the nerve centre of the festival, other venues include Malviya Nagar, Khirki Extension and Hauz Khas Village (HKV). But the masterpiece of the festival is the 158 ft high x 38 ft wide mural of Mahatma Gandhi being made on the wall of the Delhi Police headquarters by Indian street artist Anpu (who made the cat mural) and German artist Henry ECB. Though kept low-key, the size of the mural defeats the need for secrecy. “It is meant to coincide with Gandhi’s death anniversary on January 30. We wanted to make a piece that will set a trend for future street art projects in the country,” says Kureshi.
In Shahpur Jat alone there are more than 13 murals scattered across the village at street corners, on obscure walls and building facades. While some works have been getting dismissive stares from locals and visitors, others invited curious reactions. “I like the fact that my wall will be protected from rain. It will make it durable,” says a resident of the area. With plans for a Mumbai edition by October, Kureshi wants to take this movement to other parts of the country as well.
February 2-28: Street art exhibition at Smoke House Deli at HKV, where the artists will be making murals and paintings. Open to public, from noon to 10 pm.
February 7: Street Art Tour of Shahpur Jat, to gain an understanding of the murals being made and how the pieces interact with surroundings. Register at: http://bit.ly/1bv6oCx
February 9: Max Mueller Bhavan, 11 am-5 pm: Three workshops to be organised: sign painting workshop by painter Kafeel and Hanif Kureshi; stencil workshop by Anpu; and a graffiti workshop by German artist Bond. Registrations open on February 3 on the event website.
February 13: Pecha Kucha night at Smoke House Deli at HKV. Details are being finalised.