When in the aftermath of the Paris attacks in November last year, graffiti artists came together to form a group and express themselves through street art in the city, their wall graffiti became an expression of protest and resilience that was not driven by Islamophobia but rather by a strong appeal for world peace. The Latin phrase Fluctuat nec mergitur meaning “tossed but not sunk” became the mantra for those artists as it has been the motto of Paris since 1358.
Street art that is expressed through wall graffiti is gaining popularity worldwide, often speaking the language of protest, alternative politics and the angst of youth or is used to convey age-old emotions like love and loss.
The world now speculates in bafflement about the unknown and mysterious English graffiti artist Banksy&’s identity, who expresses himself (or herself?) through satirical street art works with many of them being displayed in London&’s East End. While it is still unknown who Banksy is, according to a 2008 Mail on Sunday investigation, he is believed to be Robin Gunningham, a former pupil at the Bristol Cathedral School. Some even say Banksy could be a woman, or that Banksy is a team of seven artists.
While graffiti art is more a Western trend, India too has its share of walls being spray painted.
In the recently released Ranbir Kapoor-Deepika Padukone starrer Tamasha, there were some intense moments shot in Delhi&’s Hauz Khas village in the backdrop of graffiti art, with the murals adding to the mood of the love story.
Hauz Khas is Delhi&’s hipster zone – full of narrow alleys lined with art galleries, alternate bookstores, music shops and food joints. But it is there that one finds the most amazing street art in the forms of wall graffiti under the aegis of an organisation like St+Art India.
The St+Art India foundation, which is a non-profit organisation working on art projects in public spaces backed by groups like Asian Paints, Delhi, now holds an annual street art festival (from mid-December to mid-February). The aim of the foundation is to make art accessible to a wider audience by taking it out of the conventional gallery space and embedding it within the cities we live in thereby making art truly democratic.
Some of the best wall graffiti can also be spotted if one visits the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh, where the boys from Liverpool had famously stayed and learnt meditation from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi back in 1968. The walls of the ashram, which for a long time had remained abandoned — Beatles fans across the world visited nonetheless —, have been painted with pop-art and black-and-white portraits of the band&’s members.
While India has its share of wall art now thanks to such initiatives, nothing perhaps compares to the explosion of colours and ideas witnessed in cities like Toronto and Berlin.
In Toronto, whether one is in the Graffiti Alley or Kensington Market, the city walls seem to be the best canvas for street artists. A walk down Kensington Market is like viewing an exhibition of some of the best art works out in the open. This place is a cultural melting pot indeed. The bohemian neighbourhood has the most kaleidoscopic storefronts and the murals — from gaudy to psychedelic — have transformed the area into a living art museum.
Kensington Market or Chinatown makes Toronto one of the most famous street art cities of the world. According to an article by the Toronto Tourism website, even Banksy had contributed a few pieces to the city&’s buildings when he was in town a few years ago for the Toronto International Film Festival.
While Toronto is a happening destination for wall art, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, a part of what remains of it has been turned into an art gallery that has become iconic. The most exciting segment of the Berlin Wall is surely the East Side Gallery where the graffiti painted by artists from across the world along the river Spree in the Kreuzberg area marks a creative protest against fascism and dictatorship. The Gallery, which runs along a 1.3 km long remnant of the Wall, is now an international memorial for freedom and contains about 105 works painted from 1990 onwards.
One of the more famous graffiti works there is called Fraternal Kiss/Kiss of Death by Dmitri Vrubel with the words “My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love” and recreates from an iconic photograph, the famed embrace of two world leaders snapped by photographer Regis Bossu in East Berlin on 7 October 1979. It shows Russian premier Leonid Brezhnev and East Germany&’s head Erich Honecker kissing to celebrate the anniversary of its founding as a Communist nation.
Some of the writings on the wall are food for thought as well. If one says “Love Stories Suck”, another goes “One Day We Will Be in Charge.”
Indian painter Narendra Kumar Jain&’s The Seven Stages of Enlightenment features in the gallery too showing off an essential quintessence for colourful depiction in India.
Trans World Features.