Reliving the history of graffiti art:
Humans have always found a way of expressing themselves. Graffiti art has historically been an excellent example of how the caves were painted in the Stone Ages, inside
and out. Hence, it is a shocker that the street art which is getting the attention of everyone these days, has been around for thousands of years, with roots that can be traced back to ancient civilizations of Rome, Greece and Egypt. It has been used as an expression, a medium of communication, as well as a method of documenting important historical events.
The modern graffiti which one can see in today’s day and age in art galleries and the old buildings and walls all over the city gained its prominence during the early 1960s, in Philadelphia. Darryl McCray, better known by his alias ‘Cornbread’ is widely regarded as the father of modern day graffiti. Him, along with another artist, known as ‘Cool Earl’, are credited with starting the graffiti movement when they started to tag Philadelphia with their names in order to gain more popularity.
During the same time in the 1960s, graffiti art was booming in New York; the city was under some turbulence, and the abandoned factories, shops, and buildings served as a perfect canvas for the emerging street artists. This ultimately became a widespread phenomena. The term ‘Graffiti’ itself also emerged around this time when it was used in The New York Times by novelist Norman Miller.This led to the artform being globally recognised as a suitable one. From simply existing in the form of short poems, drawings and letters on the walls to actually finding its footing as an artform, modern graffiti has come a long way.
Graffiti art makes its way to India’s film capital
For an artform that was not permitted and even widely regarded as vandalism, Mumbai accepted the street art culture wholeheartedly. Since the city housed the Bollywood industry, any form of art pertaining to it was majorly appreciated. In India, modern day graffiti gained its momentum in 2001 when nine buildings were spray painted overnight by an artist known as Dhaku. It was done by him in the form of a protest against ACP Vasant Dhoble’s decision to close down bars and pubs across the city. This movement alone led to the uprising of what one can see today while taking a stroll in the streets of Bandra, Cuffe Parade, Chapel Road or Pali hill. Graffiti art took a turn and became an outlet for oppression, while also being a vibrant and eye-pleasing method of highlighting contemporary issues.
Mumbai, the artistic capital of India, has had Bollywood as its central inspiration due to the cultural and heavy influence the industry has over the city. It's surprising that so many murals are painted on walls that are not supposed to be disturbed. When asked about this, Ranjit Dahiya,the face behind all the famous Bollywood murals and also the Bollywood Art Project said, “So, the next morning, when we are done painting the murals, people go crazy about it. It's like a superhero thing; where people know your name, but not your face.” Dahiya works with a single vision, which is to dedicate his work to the Indian film industry and enamour the city of Mumbai with his finest artwork which is relevant, vibrant and
most importantly accessible as an open-air museum.
In 2012, Ranjit Dahiya, marked the commemoration of the Bollywood Art Project with his mural at Chapel Road, Bandra of the film ‘Anarkali.’ Following that, he painted Amitabh Bacchan’s mural at Pareira Road, Bandra to honor the legendary superstar. A few days after the mural of Bacchan was completed, Dahiya heard of the demise of veteran icon Rajesh Khanna. As the country mourned, in order to ease people’s heavy hearts, he painted Rajesh Khanna’s mural from the famous film ‘Andaaz’ as a tribute.
However, the street art scene in Mumbai is not restricted to Bollywood entirely. Many female street artists have started using the old decaying walls of the mills, and buildings in the city’s congested but popular neighborhoods as their canvas. They are known for using their creativity to voice important issues and change the public mindset by highlighting the problems concerning the lives of women in India. One of the prominent female street artists is Jheel Ghoradia, who uses her street art as a medium of dissent. Her project ‘Breaking the Silence’ revolves around the idea of how women in India are often not able to speak for themselves.The artist wishes to serve as their voice, using popular characters from Bollywood to raise the concern of stereotyping women in the film industry.
Apart from cinema, a lot of the murals consist of historical depictions, and demonstrate the culture of the city itself. Last December, the 142 years old Sassoon Docks at Cuffe Parade was transformed into an artistic and visually appealing hub. It was part of the Street Art Project which collaborated with several creative minds globally, making one of the oldest docks home to several murals and installations from artists across the world. One notable mural which gained immense prominence is called ‘Inside Out’ by the French artist JR. It is a monochrome print of portraits of local Kohli residents , a celebration and a reminder of the origins of the docks, which is frequently overlooked due to the massive industrialisation of the city and the docks as well. Since it is free of charge and is available to the public at large, it encourages the emerging artists by giving them a platform to showcase their works while also serving as a means to regenerate the locales of the area and keep their history and culture alive.
Graffiti art is finally finding its footing in India. Since the past decade, the number of graffiti artists has been rapidly growing, and the practice of street art in an organized manner is also increasing. Indian graffiti artists are committed to making Mumbai and Delhi part of the global graffiti map by constantly organizing street art festivals.
People have not only started acknowledging the pop color and the beauty of the curations but also realize the importance of the underlying messages that the artists wish to convey to the masses. It’s not just a visual treat anymore, it discusses the relevance and importance of many unacknowledged issues that are often overlooked; at the same time, it preserves the untold stories of India.