In a blue jacket with the hood pulled over his head, 23-year-old graffiti artist PCO faces a tin sheet on a foggy January evening. There are rolls of tape stacked on the floor and there’s one in his hand. He pastes the tape on the tin wall of the night shelter near Hanuman Mandir, Kashmere Gate. From close, his work makes little sense. But take a few steps back and there it is – two hands joining to make a heart, in bright red of course.
This project to beautify night shelters is precursor of the second edition of St+Art Delhi Festival, an urban art festival, which runs from January 28 to 31. “People don’t want to work at shelters. They take them as dirty, even scary. But I feel good about working for these people. It’s a different audience, an important one,” says PCO. While he continues filling the heart on the wall with more tape, some passers-by stop and stare, some ask him questions, others just walk on.
This is the first project undertaken by the street art festival this year. Over the next few weeks, several night shelters or rain baseras in the city will get such decoration. “Last year, we did the Gandhi portrait on the wall of the Police Headquarters, as well as some graffiti work in Tihar Jail. It was then that the Lt-Governor (Najib Jung) invited us to his office and said he wanted us to work with different government departments, especially night shelters. We are doing our bit to add some colour,” says artist Hanif Kureshi. Along with Arjun Bahl, Akshat Nauriyal and Giulia Ambrogi, Kureshi founded the St+Art India Foundation, a non-profit organisation which holds the street art festivals in Delhi and Mumbai.
About the Kashmere Gate shelter, PCO says, “Around 200 people sleep here. Some find friends, some love. This heart signifies the bond they forge. On the other wall, I will show a handshake. I have also bought posters of gods for the inside walls. Hope they will make people keep the place clean.” PCO declined to give his real name.
His chats with the homeless people at the shelter have spurred PCO to rope in more artists to help him with this project. “When I first got here, everyone was curious. I told them I was here to improve their home and they should help me. Some of them then cleaned the tin sheets before I could apply the tape,” says PCO.