The landscape of Okhla, with a huge landfill in the backdrop, presents a vision of dull greys and browns. A little further away is the Inland Container Depot (ICD) in Tughlakabad, adding to the picture of a dystopian wasteland. Hundreds of trucks lie next to each other while thousands of steel containers are stacked on top of each other, waiting to be shipped.
Which is why the sudden appearance of colourful containers, sporting vibrant colours and geometric patterns, seems like a mirage. Stepping inside what is a makeshift entry leads to a walk-in gallery of sorts.
A man of foreign nationality is busy spraying black paint on one container. On the other side, a container lies open with a face in black paint peering from within.
The project is part of a street art festival curated by Delhi-based organisation St+Art India Foundation. It will be on throughout February.
Helmed by Arjun Bahl, Akshat Nauriyal, Giulia Ambrogi, Hanif Kureshi, Pierre Guyot and Thanish Thomas among others, the festival’s latest venture — the ICD — is titled “WIP (Work in Progress): The Street Art Show”.
It is in collaboration with the Container Corporation of India, and has used as its canvas the parking lot of the 55-acre depot, where close to 2,000 containers are handled every day by over 10,000 employees.
The organisers believe in using art as an intervention to redefine public spaces, especially lesser known areas of the city. Hence, the idea to redefine the neighbourhood of Okhla.
“The thing about containers is that they travel all around the world, covering kilometre after kilometre in different countries. I liked that idea of putting art on movable objects,” says Giulia Ambrogi, the curator of this segment of the festival. “The first thing about the containers is that they can be used in different ways. They can be used as buildings with their facades, and for hosting things and people.”
The unconventional space, say the curators, has been employed more for reimagining public space. “The space responds really well to its surroundings. It brings art to people’s lives,” says the 32-year-old. “The artists, most of whom landed in Delhi in December, form a diverse team. One of them includes prominent visual and graffiti artist Niels Shoe Meulman from Amsterdam, whose work employs the use of brooms. In Delhi, his medium has found a new language in the form of Indian brooms, which are not available outside.
Towards the other end, are Swiss artist duo Nevercrew, or Christian Rebecchi and Pablo Togni, whose larger-than-life mural of an astronaut looks on into the distance.
Iranian artist Nafir chose the interior of a container for his mural, while Harshvardhan Kadam, known as inkbrushnme, used iconographies from Indian mythology. His art on one of the containers is that of Shakti riding a hybrid of Shiva’s bull, Vishnu’s sheshnaag and Brahma’s swan, forming a “Matruka (that) represents female version of trinity from Indian mythology”.
Another intervention that the founders had hoped for was for the space, which was emptied for the purpose of this temporary show, to be used for other purposes. This took no time to materialise. Boys from neighbouring colonies and children, mostly from the landfill area, have begun using the area for music and dance.
The predominant population of truckers have been seen playing cricket in their free time.
“This is also a way of redefining public spaces,” says Ambrogi, “They come and observe and interact. They are also astonished when they ask us if this will be free and open to them. This kind of interaction opened up our curatorial concept to a sort of urban and social planning.” The cleaners from the landfill area have also been incorporated in this space, who often paint the surface of the containers before the artists can take over.
The project involves 25 artists working in small batches. As the space opens to the public on January 31, the work is yet to be over. Staying true to its ‘work in progress’ format, the artists will continue working as viewers walk in and out in the coming month.
The festival will also see German artist Hendrik Beikirch, known for his Gandhi mural at the Delhi Police Headquarters at ITO, who will use the image of a ragpicker opposite the landfill site as a permanent fixture. The space will have curated walks and tours for embassies, foundations and truckers.
“I didn’t want to give a view of art, but an experience of art,” says Ambrogi.