Just as we walk from Khanna Market towards Lodhi Colony’s Block 19, we see street artist H11235 at work — he has been painting a wall for the past one week. “There are two different elements right here — one is a gold fish and the other is a crushed water bottle,” says the artist from Nepal. “I want to make a comment on the river Yamuna and how human intervention is affecting it. These are two different forms of human interventions. One, of course, is pollution. Yamuna also has many non-native species that are affecting its ecosystem, and one of them is the gold fish,” he says. He is one of the 20 Indian and international artists who are in the Capital to paint murals in Lodhi Colony, converting the residential colony into an art district. Initiated by the St+Art Foundation, it is part of the urban art festival “St+art Delhi 2019”, supported by Asian Paints, that aims to present India with a unique public art district.
“It’s the last residential colony to be designed by the British in the 1940s. We found the space distinct because all the 100 walls are the same and at the same distance from one another. The arches in the middle make them unique and they form a perfect grid. It is also pedestrian friendly, that’s very important. It’s very different from other places in the city that are hectic and crowded,” says Hanif Kureshi, co-founder and artistic director of the foundation. The project started, in 2015, with two walls. The organisation spent a year getting permissions and painted another 20 in 2016. With these new additions, there are about 50 wall murals now.
As we continue our walk a few blocks away, New Zealand artist Aaron Glasson is on the verge of completing his mural. There are various elements in his design and it’s hard to decipher a theme. And the artist agrees. “It’s about many things but predominantly it is about the concept of connectivity, the life force of everything and sacredness of objects,” says the artist, who has the title of the work Shuddhta Samasta written in Hindi. He wants the mural to confuse people. He says, “Confusion inspires wonder. As adults, we want to know everything, but sometimes, it’s good to just wonder about things and not know the answer.”
Opposite this work, we see Japanese artist Yoh Nagao busy splashing the wall with bright hues. “Since this is an entrance to a house, I thought of making a hand holding a flower — an image I saw on many auto rickshaws — that is also painted outside homes to welcome divine energies. You will also find a pattern that we use in Japan that denotes protection. So it’s not just about welcoming guests but also protecting them,” he says, who has amalgamated signs, which belong to Hindu, Buddhist and Ainu cultures, with pop art in his mural.
There is also Italian visual artist Andreco, who has introduced his project “Climate 05 — Reclaiming Air and Water” in India for the first time. Apart from a climate parade and talk, he translated various studies on air and water remediation on a wall. “The painting symbolises the transition of toxic smoke and greenhouse gases, coming from unregulated emissions, industrial pollution, vehicular emissions and crop burning, into clean clouds,” he says. The transition was also possible because of the tree that stands in the centre of the wall.
Mumbai-based Sajid Wajid has painted a mural in vibrant red, blue and yellow, where he celebrates feminity through the work. As does the Aravani Art Project, where 15 trans-women and volunteers painted portraits of women they worked with, and who have shaped their philosophy.
The lane between Blocks 16 and 13 is now being called Singaporean street for it houses walls of four artists from the country. Artist Yipyew Chong paints everyday scenes from Lodhi Colony and Khanna Market, while artist duo Yok and Sheryo wash the opposite walls in yellow and red; their characters are also inspired by the city of Delhi. Sam Lo makes the disappearing sparrow come alive through his mural Cause and Effect.
In one of the walls, in front of Meherchand Market, there is a striking mural in black and white. What may seem completely abstract at first, slowly reveals itself. Australian artist Georgia Hill and Kureshi collaborate to reflect how language reinforces the sense of belonging. Building on the phrase “This Must Be the Place”, they arrive at the word Yahaan (Here) and paint it in abstract Hindi typography. “It has taken some time to arrive at where we have reached — to call it a public art district. Gone are the times when art was just a hobby or in the studio; we are a new generation of artists,” says Kureshi.