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Sunday, April 05, 2020

From paan-stained walls to graffiti work: How this street art festival is transforming this Chennai locality

The entire settlement was given a festive look after the slum board was chosen for the "Start Chennai" festival that began in the first week of February.

Written by Shivani Ramakrishnan | Chennai | Updated: February 20, 2020 1:57:19 pm
Chennai Street Art Festival The theme of the festival in Chennai is ‘People and Environment’. (Express photo: Shivani Ramakrishnan)

Faded colour, paan stains sprayed all over and peeling walls – this was how the slum board tenements of Chennai’s Kannagi Nagar looked like until the area was chosen for city’s first international street art festival. Now, the facades of the buildings have been replaced with graffiti painted in myriad hues ranging from a bold red to vibrant purple.

The entire settlement was given a festive look after the slum board was chosen for the “Start Chennai” festival that began in the first week of February.

A collaboration between the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) and the St+Art India Foundation, the festival aims to make art accessible and bring it to daily spaces.

“Normally, people visit art galleries to appreciate art. This has restricted access since everybody does not have the means to visit art galleries. We wanted to make art accessible and decided to put it in daily spaces which can be appreciated by the general public. Additionally, we wanted to give a face-lift to Kannagi Nagar,” Alby John, Regional Deputy Commissioner (RDC) of GCC South told Indianexpress.com.

The Kannagi Nagar area was picked by the GCC as it consists of citizens who have been resettled from other neighbourhoods across Chennai, John told. “The settlement also has a lot of problems like drug abuse and alcoholism so we thought that this will be a good time to initiate something good for the residents,” he added.

Chennai Street Art, Chennai Street Art Festival, Kannagi Nagar Slum Board Tenements As many as 16 artists, including six international artists, will be painting 14 walls in the settlement this year in the first edition of the festival. (Express photo: Shivani Ramakrishnan)

“As many as 16 artists, including six international artists, will be painting 14 walls in the settlement this year in the first edition of the festival”, said John. “After five-six years, we want to develop the area as a Public Art District where people across the globe can visit to see the artwork done on the walls, thus increasing tourism to the settlement as well,” he said.

The paintings in the settlement are being curated by St+Art India Foundation who have done similar work in New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Goa. The festival in Chennai this year is the fifth edition of the NGO’s Street Art Festival.

Vikas Nagrare, Director of Special Projects for St+Art India, told Indianexpress.com that the theme of the festival in Chennai is ‘People and Environment’.

Chennai Street Art, Chennai Street Art Festival, Kannagi Nagar Slum Board Tenements The foundation also has a long-time tie-up with Asian Paints which have been providing the required stationery to artists. (Express photo: Shivani Ramakrishnan)

“We focus on the people of a dwelling and try to recreate the environment there through our artwork. We chose the ‘People and Environment’ theme since the people of Kannagi Nagar hail from different occupational backgrounds so we wanted to come out with an installation that revolves around them”, he said.

Nagrare also said that the NGO first identifies a locale and get the necessary permission from the local authorities. “Most of the artists involved work as freelancers. Before commencing a project, the artists conduct a survey of the city and the locality to understand the dynamics of the area. Based on that, they come up with the graffiti to represent the theme,” he said.

Chennai Street Art, Chennai Street Art Festival, Kannagi Nagar Slum Board Tenements One of the walls of a block in the tenements bears a colourful front after being given a makeover by artist Osheen Shiva. Express Photo: Shivani Ramakrishnan

While St+Art India is taking care of the remuneration of the artists, the GCC is taking care of the local conveyance and stay of the artists and has been whitewashing the walls of the respective buildings before the artists take over. The foundation also has a long-time tie-up with Asian Paints which has been providing the required stationery to artists.

John said that the festival had been received well among the residents of the tenements. With the festival gaining traction among residents, the foundation is also planning to involve them in a mass painting exercise towards the end of February.

The International Street Art Festival, that started in the first week of February will end during the second week of March.

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