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Homegrown ‘Banksy’ to make debut solo show at Mumbai Gallery Weekend

Street artist Tyler, known for his satirical graffiti, is part of several exhibitions opening this week.

Written by Benita Fernando | Mumbai |
January 12, 2021 8:58:57 pm
Tyler’s graffiti at various locations in Mumbai including Jogeshwari, Andheri West and near Santa Cruz airport (Express photo by Nirmal Harindran)

Whether at Chapel Road or Lokhandwala, anyone who has been on Mumbai’s streets has probably encountered a Tyler graffiti. With sprays and stencils, Tyler’s provocative murals are pithy barbs — unhesitatingly taking on sociopolitical issues, world leaders, gross capitalism and fascism. The anonymous street artist, often called “Mumbai’s Banksy”, will have his first solo exhibition at Method in Kala Ghoda and Bandra.

Over a phone call, the artist said, “I never went to an art college and I don’t understand art like others do. Art is my tool to voice my opinion. Whether you are a singer or a stand-up comedian, people need to hear you.”

Tyler has been painting on Mumbai’s streets for about a decade and has a huge fan base on social media. The artist often evokes historical and pop culture figures, from Mahatma Gandhi to Pulp Fiction. He described his art as made of “anti-ness”, coming out of the special thrill of “going out at night, painting on the walls, breaking the law, dodging the system and getting away with it”.

In 2020, the artist’s controversial project called ‘Walk of Shame’, in which figures from Bollywood, journalism and politics were named and shamed on a road in Malad, was painted over by local civic authorities. His Instagram account was also temporarily disabled.

Tyler’s exhibition is one of many set to open from January 14 to 17 as part of Mumbai Gallery Weekend, an annual art event that is one of the highlights in the city’s cultural calendar. This year, despite the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic, the event will see the highest number of participating galleries and art establishments — 22 in total. On view will be works by stalwarts such as Bhupen Khakhar and K G Subramanyan, as well as young contemporary artists such as Sajid Wajid Shaikh and Shilo Shiv Suleman.

In pre-pandemic times, Mumbai Gallery Weekend was a packed affair with busy opening nights, lectures and talks. Gallerist Tara Lal, one of the coordinators of the event, said the pandemic safety protocols were in place this year, with show previews happening across all four days of the event from noon to 8 pm. She said, “It’s pretty safe to be in a gallery these days. They are not crowded spaces.”

It’s not often that artists like Tyler, whose art is inherently anti-establishment, have commercial gallery shows. But the success of Banksy in international art markets seems to be changing this.

Tyler said his public street art is meant to be accessible, but an artist also “needs money for bread and water”. The works are set to sell from Rs 35,000 to Rs 2.5 lakh, plus taxes. From street to gallery, Tyler is aiming to strike a fine balance — the artworks will have his trademark style but the content might sting less than his public murals. After all, he cannot paint a prime minister’s picture and expect people to buy it, he said. The exhibition will see bits of Mumbai’s streets come into the gallery space as the artist has turned found objects, such as discarded window frames into canvases.

Can Tyler’s fans expect a meet-and-greet at the exhibition? For an artist, who has been adamantly anonymous since 2012, Tyler said, “I think I have been successful at it, so I don’t think I should be going to my own show.”

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