When Mumbai streets turn into canvases for these artists

Wall art today is not just an expression of creativity but also a social comment on modern times

Maithili ChakravarthyUpdated: Saturday, September 03, 2022, 10:59 PM IST
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Zake's Graffiti |

Today, Mumbai has a series of walls with art and graffiti by artists who started to use the city’s walls as their canvas. Commentary on war, Bollywood, relationships, etc. are some themes graffiti and mural artists have focussed on. Often bright and colourful, the art is known to make bold statements, giving onlookers a treat. As Mumbai evolves from being a city where Victorian architecture flourished to one which is becoming more modern, the city’s pavements and ramparts have lent themselves to experimentation.

Artists like Zake are seen as pioneers in Mumbai’s mural art scene. With a style that is untried and rooted in the artist’s hip-hop influences, Zake’s art can be found across western suburbs like Bandra and Andheri. It often depicts the times, whether that be politics, rap music, graphic art or injustices. “I’m the graphic artist who does all that hip-hop art. My art is often a commentary on different topics and represents different subcultures and thoughts. My art tends to reflect my opinion on issues but also tries to not take sides. There are always two sides to a topic, so it’s best to be neutral as well. Today, street art is advanced and it’s also challenging because of the illegality of it,” he shares. 

Pic from Bollywood Art Project, MTNL bldg., Bandra West

Pic from Bollywood Art Project, MTNL bldg., Bandra West |

The city, hence, is a new backdrop for people to click pictures. Certain hubs where wall art is more prevalent have witnessed crowds. Chapel Road in Bandra is one of them. The Bollywood Art Project (BAP) founded by Ranjit Dahiya is responsible for many of the murals on Chapel Road’s walls. The street, full of heritage properties, homes some of the most awe-inspiring, and bright murals of actresses like Waheeda Rehman and Helen make walks here interesting. A little further one observes more rebellious art, mentioning Pink Floyd and featuring album art of his songs. 

One witnesses art that is symbolic and meaningful, aiming to make the city walls more evocative — those which try to represent emotions. “I aimed to make the city which is home to Bollywood, more about it. There were no Bollywood murals when I first came here, and I thought it was an idea which needed representation of some sort. I wanted the murals to be larger-than-life, those that were all about ‘Sringar Ras’ (a city’s aesthetic appeal). I want my murals to tell the story of Mumbai’s skyline,” Dahiya says.

Zake's Graffiti

Zake's Graffiti |

Challenging norms and going against popular thought is also something street artists have attempted to show through their scrawls. Tyler, who began doing street art 12 years ago, is one such artist. The artist also describes himself as a rebel. “I want to push the boundaries. It doesn’t make sense to me to do commissioned work, where you are told what to do. There’s a lot of backlash today and that is restrictive. I have gotten away with a lot of stuff. I have crafted a legacy with my work over the years. It’s not art when you do what others dictate or if it doesn’t have your thought and insight in it.” 

Street artists have aimed to do work that speaks of the times, pushing the envelope, and remaining cautious of the consequences of their art. Paintings with authorities putting a finger on their lips, art that speaks about a Christmas that may not be as joyous as it seems... These are some works coming out of the stable of artists like Tyler. 

The city, hence, offers street art where different kinds of artists meet, those trying to straddle the fine line between what can be done and that which could be pulled up for being risqué. Some try to stay away from advertising to retain the purity of the medium of expression. “One should show reality to

inspire an entire generation. Why does one have to say Jai Shri Ram to prove one’s nationality? This is the subject one of my paintings brings out. I don’t quite work for money because that will spoil my attempts at showing the truth. Several subjects need to be shown. It pains me that our country has one of the highest rates of sexual assault and rape. Other problems like unemployment are also painful to watch. I want to show these through my work. I don’t want to paint subjects which want to keep you in your comfort zone. Street art is about that,” concludes Tyler, who chooses to remain anonymous to evade the repercussions of what he wants to put out there.

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