On a sunny October afternoon, shoppers, young and old alike, were seen walking around Shankar Market, a bustling upscale bazaar adjoining Connaught Place in central Delhi. As they carried themselves from one shop to another with heavy garment-laden bags, they also momentarily stole glances at the walls and roof of the market building – freshly painted in bright, glossy colours. The walls, which bore worn-out white paint with sticking cobwebs and scraping plaster a year ago, now shine with dazzling imagery, thanks to a growing culture of street art spreading its canvas in the national capital.
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Yogesh Saini heads the Delhi Street Art (DSA), an organisation that promotes public art with the help of young artists. That day, he looked a bit harried with dabs of paint on his hands signalling that he was in the middle of a redesign project in a café. It was Saini who headed a group of artists to give a facelift to the drab, unattractive walls of Shankar Market, with a little help from the local government. Colourful imagery, full with dragons, octopuses and human figures, now adorn the walls.
“My real goal is to add aesthetics to our walls and bring more creativity and art into public spaces,” said Saini over a cup of steaming coffee.
Saini’s DSA is one among a range of organisations which have taken root in the last couple of years in Delhi with the sole aim of bringing more colour to the city’s public spaces. They work in close coordination with municipal and local bodies to ensure greater beautification of a city that has strong historical and cultural roots.
“At least 60 per cent of our public art work projects are in partnership with local or state authorities. We get funding for more than half of such projects that will cover costs of operations and materials. In Shankar Market, the government funded us for materials and logistics,” said Saini, who has done everything from illustrative art, graffiti to calligraphy and traditional art.
Delhi, earlier this year, hosted the ST+ART festival, a congregation of street artists across the world displaying their work. It was a fitting precursor to the wave of public art projects yet to come in the city.
Nin Taneja, an independent artist who worked on the segment in Shankar Market along with Saini, says the culture of street art is steadily evolving in the city.
“The authorities are warming up to the idea of street art. As for artists, everyone has his/her imagination. They have their own style. The public wants positive art, something refreshing. It feels good when people appreciate our work,” said Taneja.
Barely 500 metres away from Shankar Market, a theme of women empowerment is taking shape on the public walls. On one side of the wall, a woman rides a giant eagle, followed by a swarm of little birds.
We wanted to show how a woman is liberated, riding on the back of a bird soaring in the sky, said Saini pointing to the artwork.
On the second side of the wall, a woman sits on a tiger exhorting passersby to fight violence. On the third side of the wall, a woman, dressed in a sari, rides a fish amidst swelling waters.
For those sensing a pattern in the art work, yes there is one. The paintings portray the emancipation of a woman across all environments – air, land and water. The art work, beautiful as they are, are also poignantly fitting and blending in a city that has witnessed a wave of violence against women in recent times.
But Saini makes it clear that his artwork is not about protest or making a social statement against the system.
“My focus is adding aesthetics. It is about drawing what I feel like in that context. If I am drawing in a public space, I have to keep in mind the public sensibilities,” he added.
At the same time, he is optimistic of the fact that the cultural wave that brought in street art to global cities like New York, Berlin, Rome and Munich has indeed hit the Indian capital.
“Delhi has always been culturally-oriented in terms of art, theatre, music. For many years, Delhi was seen as a babu-city. But now there is an unleashing of creative art and thought. It has also become trendy,” said Saini.
An interactive map below showing different locations of street art designs in Delhi