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Play the Tape

Installation artist Aakash Nihalani works with an unusual medium — paper tape.

In the summer of 2006,Aakash Nihalani decided that his heart wasn’t in politics. Enrolling at the Department of Political

Science at New York University for graduate studies had clearly been a bad idea. Nihalani found comfort in the NYU art department. And promptly got tied up in sticky tape.

Tape — flourescent pink,blue,yellow and green — is Nihalani’s medium of expression. A rising talent in global art,this installation artist creates vibrant isometric designs on sidewalks and doorways,walls and stairways,all with colourful tape. After showcasing in various galleries in the US,Paris and Vienna,Nihalani has brought his quirky geometry to India for the first time in an exhibition titled Aalign.

At the Seven Art Limited Gallery in south Delhi,where he will be exhibiting from September 24,the artist exudes ease. “The brilliance of tape lies in the fact that it doesn’t deface property,it’s easily removable unlike,say,spray paint,” he says. “Moreover,I can make changes while I’m working.” His tool is common coloured paper tape (“It’s easier to work with than duct tape”) and he crafts quirky cubes,squares and rectangles that,in the finest traditions of street art,interact with the surroundings. “Growing up amid the cube-shaped buildings of New Jersey might have a hand in this,” he says about his favourite shape.

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He saunters around Seven Art Limited Gallery,dressed in a plain green shirt and jeans,his long hair left open. His parents had migrated from India to the US in the 1970s and Nihalani was born in Queens in 1986. He can’t explain his childhood obsession with art but says that he spent most of primary school doodling in his notebook and later graduated to painting on hats,shoes and T-shirts.

Tape happened to him by accident during an exhibition in his senior year at the university. His eyes fell on the shadow of a pedestal — he traced this shadow in tape,and voila,the tape guy was born.

“After the tape discovery,I took to the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn,” says Nihalani. There is a thin line between vandalism and street art but Nihalani was no “property-defacer”. He wasn’t stealthy about it — he worked in broad daylight and never used a pseudonym,unlike most graffiti artists. Slowly,people started noticing his art — some loved it,some ignored it and a few called in the cops.

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There have been no sticky situations so far. Instead,Stephen Pacia of Bose Pacia Gallery in New York noticed his work in late 2008,and

Nihalani got a ticket to his first solo show. It was in Pacia’s basement,a large warehouse of sorts that would soon become a full-fledged art gallery called 17 Frost,of which Nihalani is now the curator. A series of shows followed in Chelsea,Los Angeles,New York,Paris and Vienna.

In Delhi,he is drawn to the most crowded neighbourhood in the city,Chandni Chowk. By the time Nihalani winds up,the passers-by,who had been watching,are amused and impressed. “In India,art is mostly reserved for festivals. Street art is new,abstract and unusual,” he says.

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Aalign will also display Nihalani’s metal and wooden sculptures,photographs and digital works. “My designs look digital but I use real space and real material and therein lies the difference,” he says. His designs adorn apparel stores and other commercial spaces,but the artist loves the street. His art lives and breathes on the street,like the millions of people who walk by.

First published on: 19-09-2011 at 12:08:51 am
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