Decoding Indian graffiti scene: How the artform has evolved to convey social messages


By Harshmeet  Singh

Kerala’s Kochi seems like a changed city nowadays. While some choose to call it vandalism and illegal, others are in awe of it. The walls in the Fort Kochi region have been filled with splendid graffiti artwork by an unknown artist (or a group of artists) that goes by the name of ‘Guess Who’.  Experts can’t help but see the popular UK graffiti artist Banksy as an inspiration for the artists carrying out these works.

Long seen as an art form used to protest against the set world order, graffiti has slowly come of age in terms of the designs and creativity the artists have to offer. A number of European nations have dedicated specific walls to the graffiti artists to carry out their art, hoping that they would adhere to the boundaries. But considering the free spirit attitude of graffiti artists, it isn’t a surprise that many of them dare to choose the elite neighbourhoods and leave a colourful impression. ‘Anonymity’ of the artists is perhaps the only rule of graffiti art which adds to its intrigue.

India’s Daku

One of the first graffiti artists in India, Daku’s works majorly comprise of writing his symbolic name in different fonts. He is in fact the first such artist to use Devnagari script in his work. According to him, more than protesting against any establishment, his works are a protest against the established lettering and typography used by the usual painters. He calls himself a part of the International graffiti artists’ collective known as 156. He has often teamed up with another graffiti artist who goes by the name ‘Bond’. Their graffiti works can be seen at a number of walls in Delhi’s Malviya Nagar, Ansal Plaza and Hauz Khas.

One of their ‘official assignments’ included an invitation to the TechFest 2011, organized by IIT Mumbai. “People are quite bewildered by the fact that we are doing this for ourselves and don’t get paid for it. I do it because there is nothing in the city when it comes to street art. If my artwork can make someone stop and think what is it, why is it here, my job is done”, he chuckles.


JNU – the hub of India’s graffiti art

A walk around the campus would convince you that JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) is certainly one of the most vibrant educational institutes in the country. With the hostel and departmental walls filled with different graffiti, creativity reaches its pinnacle in the JNU campus. Unlike some other graffiti arts in the country, the wall works at JNU speak the language of protests. These graffiti works raise trivial issues ranging from the Israel – Palestine conflict and gender inequality to Naxalism and price rise. Coming from one of the most politically active student campuses in the country, such strong expressions don’t surprise many people. The University has earmarked certain spaces in the campus where the students can put up their handmade posters and engage in a dialogue.


Delhi street art festival 2015

The St+art Foundation India is bringing together 12 national and International artists in the ongoing Delhi street art festival 2015. Scheduled to run till March 31st, the festival would see the artists working together for murals, exhibitions and taking workshops and talks about their art. The list of participating artists includes India’s Daku, Anpu, P.C.O and Yantr.

The international artists that would be in the scene include Spain’s Okuda, Japan’s Lady Aiko, USA’s Axel Void, Paulo Ito from Brazil, Germnay’s Clemens Behr, Portugal’s Samina and Rukkit from Bangkok. Hanif Kureshi, St+art India Foundation’s Creative Director said that “There will be eight special projects in collaboration with different government bodies such as MCD, NDMC, PWD, Department of Women and Child Development and DUSIB with focus on themes like the Swacch Bharat Campaign, Women Empowerment, Traditions & Transitions, Recycling, Pollution and Urbanisation. From permanent murals to temporary installations, flyover pillars, underpasses, night shelters, gardens and government buildings will undergo amazing transformations. We are looking forward to engaging local communities and general audiences in these special projects“.


Delhi – India’s graffiti capital too?

Over the past 5 to 6 years, Delhi’s walls have started speaking a different language. Getting rid of the disgusting paan stains, many walls now carry impressive and colourful art forms. A big city and huge population is an ideal set up for the graffiti artists and street painters and love to work in the night hours and transform a boring wall into a speaking masterpiece with a few hours of the dark night. ‘Art should be out in the open for everyone to see’ is the driving principle behind most of these artists, majority of who start when they are into their teens.

Viewed as vandalism and a menace in the European countries, graffiti is illegal in a number of countries. But fortunately, acceptance of this art form is on the rise in the Indian metros. This growing acceptance is also a sign of the coming of age of Indian street art form from ‘gadhe ke poot, itthe naa moot’ to more sophisticated versions which are pleasing to the eye and mind.