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Changing Times – Presidency University Bids Adieu to its Legacy of Graffiti on Walls

Presidency University is losing an integral part of its culture-the expression of opinion through graffiti on walls.

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Presidency College, Kolkata. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The Hindu College was established in 1817 in the city of Calcutta. It is much later that it came to be known as Presidency College and then, Presidency University. Presidency served as alma mater to Sukumar Ray, Subhas Chandra Bose, Satyajit Ray, Amartya Sen and many more stalwart figures. Derozio himself, had taught in Presidency(then known as Hindu College). Derozio’s disposition  towards his students was clearly manifested in his poem, “A Sonnet to the Pupils of Hindu College,” where he wrote:

“What joyance rains upon me, when I see

Fame in the mirror of futurity

Wearing the chaplets you are yet to gain

And then I feel I have not lived in vain”

Thus, Presidency was a force to be reckoned with in every sense of the term.

But when we stepped into the campus, years later, that zest for life and hunger for truth, the kind of education that was imparted by Derozio was on the verge of ebbing away. The Derozians could no longer take part in anything bigger than the academic scheme of things for they would be debarred from sitting for the examination. The legacy of protests and uninhibited opinions had come to a standstill. No matter how hard they tried, they could not break free. No more of Ray’s Non-sense Club or Bose’s undying spirit would be reborn there.

Our seniors would tell us, “How would you understand? You haven’t quite seen the Presidency we have!” We use to laugh at that but we knew something was missing.

Our teachers, especially, the ones who had once been the students of Presidency and now, served as professors, would tell us in a nostalgic moment, “What we experienced in Presidency was nowhere even near to what you are seeing”.

Indeed, we were missing out on a lot.

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The graffiti on the walls of Union Room manifests the democratic spirit of the University.

However, the walls still could talk to us. Their graffiti was still staring back at us. They still bore witness to the legacy of the past and were in no way forgetting it. They still remained vocal about their protest against AFSPA, against constant vigilance and their demand for student’s union election. But, for how long?

Little did they know that soon they would be covered in the facades of an utterly modern life.  Their voices would be silenced and put into a lifelong slumber. We had a little bit of art and love left inside Presidency and that too, would get drained.

Another graffiti.
Another graffiti.

No more Buddha, no more of that impeccable telephone. No more would the walls scream out, demanding what is rightfully theirs.

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When all of this havoc was reeking on us, a friend decided to capture the remnants and preserve it by capturing the beautiful wall art in her camera. If Buddha was gone, how long would others last? It was a novel initiative on her part, a way to hold on to something before it was gone forever,  but it never should have come to that.

The walls after being renovated.
The walls after being renovated.

On our 199th year, we are being forced to say goodbye to our legacy of graffiti on walls.

-by Atreyee Sengupta, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: Etrui14

ALSO READ:

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    oops! Something that shouldn’t have been happening. Graffiti has been a way of letting people know about things using art.

  • devika todi

    it is disheartening when we see such college cultures end.

Next Story

Graffiti Villages in Taiwan Festoons with Artwork in a Bid to Inject Some Life into Rural Places

Nestled in the mist-covered foothills of Taiwan’s central mountain range, Ruan Chiao village is virtually devoid

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Graffiti, Viilages, Taiwan
Hakka graffiti artist Wu Tsun-hsien paints a wall in the Taiwanese village of Ruan Chiao, May 21, 2019. VOA

Nestled in the mist-covered foothills of Taiwan’s central mountain range, Ruan Chiao village is virtually devoid of young people, but artist Wu Tsun-hsien is coaxing the Instagram generation back by transforming local homes into a canvas of color.

Dipping his brush into a tin of beige emulsion, he carefully applies new layers of paint to his latest production, a vibrant rural scene depicting farmers in traditional weave hats tending to a flock of animals.

Behind him, an elderly villager with a walking stick shuffles his way down the main street, which is plastered with Wu’s colorful paintings.

“This village is full of old people,” the 55-year-old laments, explaining how the vast majority of youngsters, including his own children, have moved to the city, leaving elderly residents listless and lonely.

Graffiti, Viilages, Taiwan
A local resident walks past a house painted by Hakka graffiti artist Wu Tsun-hsien in the Taiwanese village of Ruan Chiao, March 30, 2019. Pixabay

But paintings have started to bring young visitors — always keen for a selfie in a photo-friendly location — back.

“These drawings attracted many tourists to come and visit. The old people who were left here are no longer so bored. This was my biggest gain,” he beams.

Wu is not alone in this adopting this strategy.

There are now some half a dozen so-called “graffiti villages” in Taiwan that have been festooned with artwork in a bid to inject some life into rural places that have been emptied of their young.

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Empty villages

Like many industrialized places, Taiwan’s remarkable economic transformation over the past few decades has upended rural communities and unleashed huge demographic changes.

“It’s perhaps a more recent phenomenon than it would have been in some other places,” explains Shelley Rigger, an expert on Taiwan at Davidson College in North Carolina, who said much of Taiwan’s industrial manufacturing stayed in the villages.

“People sewed Barbie doll clothing in their houses and then carried it down to a packaging plant in the middle of a village,” she tells AFP, as an example.

Graffiti, Viilages, Taiwan
Hakka graffiti painter Wu Tsun-hsien poses in an empty old house near his home in the Taiwanese village of Ruan Chiao, March 30, 2019. VOA

Ruan Chiao village, for example, used to churn out paper temple offerings.

But once much of the manufacturing shifted to mainland China in the late 1990s and Taiwan moved up the value chain, many of those jobs left.

“That’s when you see rural areas kind of emptying out,” Rigger adds.

Aging country

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Taiwan’s population of 23 million is also rapidly aging. The birth rate has plummeted — only 180,000 children were born last year, an eight-year low.

The Wu family have experienced this flight first hand.

The ancestral home is occupied by his wife’s father, 81, and mother, 72, who still work a few plots of land in the hills above the village growing organic vegetables. But Wu’s own children both went to university and have left, one to Australia, the other to a nearby city.

Wu’s wife Fan Ai-hsiu explains their bid to draw Instagram-happy crowds of youngsters was less about economics and more about giving her parents something to look forward to.

“They want to have conversations with people, that’s what they miss, it’s not about money,” Fan says.

But it was not initially an easy task to persuade fellow villagers to use their houses as a canvas.

“People here are fairly conservative,” she recalls, adding: “But once the first few paintings went up, they could see it brought people in.”

Political themes

Most of Wu’s paintings in the village stick to rural pastiches or traditional symbols of good fortune.

It is the family home where he really gets to express himself, and which has quickly drawn a mass following on social media.

Perched on a slope overlooking the village, the whole house is covered in images, many of which detail Wu’s politics.

He’s an avid believer that not enough is being done to tackle climate change, so some of the scenes show apocalyptic scenes of environmental devastation.

Others are commentaries on social issues like gay marriage — which he opposes — or how the elderly are treated in an increasingly consumerist society.

“This mural depicts the present Taiwanese corrupt society,” Wu remarks as he walks along a huge painted wall featuring hundreds of images.

“This one is society’s mayhem due to mobile phones, computers and television … and this one is our cultural loss where many of our Hakka young generations don’t know the culture,” he adds.

Distinct group

The Hakka are a linguistically distinct group of people who trace their origins back to southern China. They have lived in Taiwan for some four centuries and make up 15-20% of the population.

Evelyn Sun puts on art and food events in Taipei and found out about Wu’s paintings via social media.

She visited with friends who all soon found themselves sitting around a table with the Wu family, eating traditional Hakka vegetable dishes and tucking into eggs boiled in a secret recipe of local herbs.

The 25-year-old enthuses: “Taiwan has many ‘graffiti villages’ that are beautiful scenic spots where people will just leave after taking pictures.”

“But I realized when I came here that every mural here is depicting a social problem faced by society.”

She hopes other young Taiwanese will explore the nation’s rural villages more often.

She explains: “These people are our culture, they are our history, we have to get to know them.” (VOA)