Last night, me and my friend decided to go on a long drive on a bike in Mumbai. He came to pick me up at two a.m. and then it began. It was a chilly night and the roads, except for the highway were mostly deserted. If it were a movie, I would say it was all in black and yellow with just a few colours and bokehs sprewn here and there. We reached Bandra, after being searched by the police once for signs of drunken drinking. I realised it was a horrible horrible job. Instead of using breath analysers, a policemen would come near you and smell your breath in the pretense of asking your name. It ought to be included in the list for the “worst jobs around the world.” Then there was the ocean. Owing to low tide, the ocean was a huge and still mass of water. The moon was almost full. And believe me when I say it looked like somebody jad mashed up pieces of glasses and spread the shards on a huge black canvas which shimmered and sparkled in the black of the night. And it was hard to believe that this was Bandra. Then came Haji Ali, the glittering blue lights, the colours I talked about earlier, in the midst of the huge canvas. Slowly the architecture begins to change. There is an oncoming of tall buildings with darkened hollows for windows. The horizon is not at all visible, unlike the seaface earlier. And suddenly we have marine drive. It only gets better. The air gets colder than ever before. The huge body of water looks like an even more beautiful artwork. The moon in all its glory, seemed to be proud of its beauty. Then we came across the beautiful colonial past, the architectural heritage of Mumbai. In the dark of the knight they looked like those ancient black and white pictures that we now find printed on postcards. It was nearly 5 a.m. by this time and the beautiful highcourt decided to tell this to us with its beautiful chiming in the silent of the night. We decided to take a break and have some food with some caramel tea (I named it because of its peculiar taste) at an Irani cafe which was the only one open at the time. And finally after that we made our way back home. It was a beautiful night, a night to remember. And it felt as if everything fell into piece just to make it perfect for us, like those five planets that have aligned in the same line for the first time in decades.
So I was randomly listening to Alt-J on YouTube and I came across this beautiful song: Taro.
Just btw, this is not the official video.
I decided to go to the roots of the inspiration and you won’t believe what I found.
The lyrics go like:
Indochina, Capa jumps Jeep, two feet creep up the road
To photo, to record meat lumps and war,
They advance as does his chance – very yellow white flash.
A violent wrench grips mass, rips light, tears limbs like rags,
Burst so high finally Capa lands,
Mine is a watery pit. Painless with immense distance
From medic from colleague, friend, enemy, foe, him five yards from his leg,
From you Taro.
Do not spray into eyes – I have sprayed you into my eyes.
3:10 pm, Capa pends death, quivers, last rattles, last chokes
All colours and cares glaze to grey, shrivelled and stricken to dots,
Left hand grasps what the body grasps not – le photographe est mort.
3.1415, alive no longer my amour, faded for home May of ‘54
Doors open like arms my love, Painless with a great closeness
To Capa, to Capa Capa dark after nothing, re-united with his leg and with you, Taro.
Do not spray into eyes – I have sprayed you into my eyes.
Long story cut short, Gerda Taro was born into a Jewish family that migrated from Galicia to Germany.Taro is regarded as the first female photojournalist to cover the front lines of a war and to die while doing so. She was a war photojournalist in the late 40’s/early 50’s and died in her line of work when a tank collided into the side of a car she was riding on. Gerda’s romantic interest, and colleague, Robert Capa left his Jeep to enter a hostile war zone to take pictures, during the first Indo-China war. He stepped on a landmine however, which blew apart his left leg. He was taken to a medical station where he died with his camera in his hand.
Here is Guardian’s article talking about their life, the novel published on it and the movie made on them (http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/may/13/robert-capa-gerda-taro-relationship):
It begins with a photograph. In 1934 a struggling Hungarian photographer, André Friedmann, living in exile in Paris, is commissioned to take publicity pictures for a Swiss life insurance company’s advertising brochure. On the lookout for potential models, he approaches a young Swiss refugee, Ruth Cerf, in a café on the Left Bank and convinces her to pose for him in a Montparnasse park.
Because she does not entirely trust the scruffy young charmer, Ruth brings along her friend Gerta Pohorylle, a petite redhead with a winning smile and a confident manner. So begins the most iconic relationship in the history of photography, and an intertwined and complex story of radical politics, bohemianism and bravery that, in the intervening years, has taken on the shadings of a modern myth.
Together, André Friedmann and Gerta Pohorylle would change their names and their destiny, becoming Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, the most celebrated visual chroniclers of the Spanish civil war. Together, too, they would change the nature of war photography, reinventing the form in a way that resonates to this day. Capa went on to become the most famous of the two, and arguably the most famous war photographer of the 20th century due to his visceral images of the D-day landings on Omaha Beach in Normandy. His most famous quote would become a dictum by which ensuing generations of war photographers worked: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
This brave, but cavalier, approach to getting pictures of the action from within the action would cost both Gerda Taro and Robert Capa their lives – the former killed on the frontline of the Spanish civil war in 1937; the latter blown up by a land mine in Indochina in 1954. The myth of Robert Capa and Gerda Taro continues apace today with the British publication of a novel called Waiting for Robert Capa by Susana Fortes, a Spanish novelist and teacher. The book won the coveted Premio Fernando Lara in Spain on its initial publication in 2009 and has since been translated into 20 languages; the film rights have been bought by Michael Mann, the award-winning director of Heat (1995), The Insider (1999) and Public Enemies (2009). Fortes’s short novel is essentially a historical romance that concentrates on the relationship between Capa and Taro. While the historical settings are accurate, Fortes literally puts words into each of their mouths, imagining conversations, thoughts and debates as well as accentuating both the doomed romance and the reckless bohemianism of the times.
With the Spanish civil war as its main backdrop, the narrative is an uneasy, sometimes awkward, merging of fact and fiction, and will almost certainly offend the many guardians of both Capa and Taro’s reputations just as it will no doubt entrance the mainstream cinema-going audience should it be made into a Hollywood film. “I tried to be very respectful of the facts – the biographical data, the locations etc,” says Fortes when I contact her in Spain, where she is on a book publicity tour. “I went through everything I could find: letters, memories, biographies… But for a novel to breathe, you have to build souls for your characters. This is reflected in the dialogue, the literary tension, the humour, the fights, the passion, the sex, the mixed feelings. In other words, life. That’s part of the novelist’s job. One always writes with one foot on the ground and the other in the air. It is the only way to walk the path.”
However, when I mention the book to Jimmy Fox – veteran photographic historian and erstwhile director of the famous Magnum agency, which Capa co-founded with Henri Cartier-Bresson – he says: “I was dismayed by the novel. It was so fluttery and sugary. I think it is wrong to elevate the romance in that way. Capa was a flamboyant guy, a great drinker and a womaniser who had so many lovers, including Ingrid Bergman. Taro found the love of her life in Ted Allan, the man who was with her when she was fatally wounded. But of course that does not fit the big simplified romantic version so neatly.”
The independent filmmaker Trisha Ziff, who directed The Mexican Suitcase (2010) about the discovery of a hoard of unseen negatives by Capa, Taro and David “Chim” Seymour, concurs. “Waiting for Robert Capa is a fiction based on a romance, but it is also a romance based on a fiction. If it becomes a Hollywood film, the myth will no doubt take over.”
If there is one thing all the experts agree on, it is that nothing was straightforward about Robert Capa and Gerda Taro’s relationship. Shortly after their first meeting, the young André Friedmann was sent to Spain on an assignment for a Berlin-based photo magazine. He subsequently photographed the Holy Week procession in Seville and described the festivities to Gerta Pohorylle in a letter that also mentioned how much he was thinking about her. On his return, he spent the summer holidaying in the south of France with Gerta and her friends. According to Ruth Cerf, quoted in Alex Kershaw’s book Blood and Champagne: The Life and Times of Robert Capa, the pair “fell in love in the south of France” despite her suspicion that he was “a rogue and a womaniser”. If the young Gerta was fascinated by his waywardness, he in turn was taken by her independent spirit. “Here was a woman,” writes Kershaw, “who didn’t suffocate him with affection, and who was as unashamed by her sexuality as she was conscious of her outsider status in Paris as a German Jew.” This gets to the heart of the couple’s mutual attraction: their shared radicalism and acute sense of exile. Friedmann had departed his native Hungary for Berlin in 1931 soon after his arrest by the secret police for leftist student activism. In February 1933, aged 19, he had fled Berlin when Hitler assumed power, travelling to Vienna, then back home to Budapest, before departing Hungary for good in September to live in penury in Paris, where he met Pohorylle on that fateful day in 1934.
By then, she too had experienced radical politics, arrest and flight. Born to bourgeois parents in Stuttgart in 1910, Pohorylle joined a young communist organisation and, around the time Friedmann was fleeing Berlin, was distributing anti-Nazi leaflets and putting up communist propaganda posters on walls under cover of darkness. She was arrested by the Nazis on 19 March 1933 and interrogated about a supposed Bolshevik plot to overthrow Hitler.
On her release, she used a fake passport to travel overland to Paris, where she was looked after by a communist network. Both André Friedmann and Gerta Pohorylle, though still young, were already seasoned activists and exiles when they met, intent on forging new lives for themselves while also staying loyal to their radical leftist roots.
Though Friedmann could seldom afford to buy film and often had to pawn his camera to survive in Paris, he schooled Pohorylle in the rudiments of photography and found her a job in the newly formed Alliance Photo picture agency. And she, it seemed, anchored him – at least for a while. “Without Gerta, André would not have made it,” the late Eva Besnyö, another Hungarian photographer who mixed in the same bohemian circles in Berlin, told Kershaw. “She picked him up, gave him direction. He had never wanted an ordinary life, and so when things didn’t go well, he drank and gambled. He was in a bad way when they met, and maybe without her it would have been the end for him.”
As Friedmann’s photographic career tentatively took off in Paris, his younger brother Cornell joined him, developing the photographs taken by André as well as those of his friends, Henri Cartier-Bresson and David “Chim” Seymour, in a darkened bathroom in a hotel that overlooked the famous Café du Dôme. It was there that the three photographers mingled with philosophers, writers and artists, drinking and dreaming of better times. It was around this time also that André Friedmann and Gerta Pohorylle became Robert Capa and Gerda Taro in a shared act of self-reinvention that still seems daring today.
The first anyone else heard of Robert Capa was when the couple turned up at the offices of Alliance Photo and announced they had discovered a famous American photographer of that name. The pair soon found they could sell photographs attributed to the fictitious Capa to French photographic agencies for three times the price of Friedmann’s, such was the status accorded visiting American photographers. Their joint ruse was soon discovered, but the pseudonyms remained in place. In her essay for the exhibition catalogue Gerda Taro: Archive, published in 2007, Irme Schaber notes: “Taro and Capa were not merely reacting to their precarious economic situation. They were responding as well to the antisemitism of Germany and the increasing antipathy towards foreigners in France. And to elude the stigma attached to being refugees, they spurned every ethnic or religious label.”
If their joint self-reinvention was the first significant factor in the dramatic trajectory of Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, the second was their decision to go together to Spain in 1936 to cover the republican resistance to Franco’s fascist rebels. Like many writers and artists, including George Orwell and André Malraux, they went there out of political conviction and scorned any notion of journalistic detachment. The fight against fascism was, in a very real and personal way, their fight, given their history as exiles and refugees, and the Spanish civil war was the literal and metaphorical frontline of that battle.
It was an adventure, though, that almost ended as soon as it had begun, when the plane hired by the French magazine Vu to take them to Barcelona crash-landed in a field on the outskirts of the city. The pair limped into Barcelona to find scenes of ferment and disorder as anarchist forces took over the city. There, they photographed young republicans leaving Barcelona for the frontlines. Then in September they travelled together to the front themselves, arriving in the village of Cerro Muriano near Córdoba, where they found, and photographed, crowds of villagers fleeing their homes as the fascists rained shells down on the village. In one famous series of pictures, Capa captured Taro crouched, camera in hand, behind a wall beside a republican soldier. In another even more famous picture, perhaps the most well-known war photograph ever, Capa caught a militiaman at the very moment of his death from a sniper’s bullet.
In that split second, the legend of Robert Capa, war photographer, was born, and decades later that same image would become the centre of a debate that still simmers over the ethics and veracity of war photography. In Waiting for Robert Capa, Fortes writes: “Death of a Loyalist Militiaman contained all the drama of Goya’s Third of May 1808 painting, all the rage that Guernica would later show… Its strength, like all symbols, didn’t lie in just the image, but in what it was representing.” Fortes also imagines Taro gently probing Capa for the story of what really happened that day, and him replying: “We were just fooling around, that’s all. Perhaps I complained that everything was far too calm and that there wasn’t anything interesting to photograph. Then some of the men started to run down the slope and I joined in as well. We went up and down the hill several times. We were all feeling good. Laughing. They shot in the air. I took several photographs…”
Though the context of the photograph is still contested, the imagined conversation does describe what probably happened that day just before a Francoist sniper returned fire from across the hills, killing the militiaman who was running down the hill for Capa’s camera. “People want the truth from war photography more than they do from any other kind of photography,” says Jimmy Fox, the Magnum picture editor who has worked with the likes of Don McCullin and Philip Jones Griffiths, “but a flat surface of an image is not the reality and never can be.”
In Spain, Capa soon developed a reputation for taking photographs whatever the risk, setting the tone for war reportage as we now know it. Taro, too, was often seen running across the battle lines with her camera, her bravery matched by her recklessness. She travelled back and forth to the frontlines, shooting what she saw, often driven by a mixture of humanity, political commitment and a shrewd understanding of the power of the photograph to shape public opinion.
Throughout 1937, Taro visited several frontlines, either with Capa or on her own. They managed to return to Paris for a short vacation in July that year, celebrating Bastille Day by dancing in the streets below Sacre Coeur and, according to Schaber, hatching “great plans for the future”. Taro then returned to Spain alone, despite the growing concerns of her friends who, having seen her recent photographs of the fighting, feared for her safety.
Defying a ban on journalists travelling to the front, she once again made her way to Brunete with the Canadian journalist Ted Allan, her close friend, travelling companion and soon-to-be lover. According to Allan’s diaries, written later, they spent “mornings afternoons and evenings together chasing stories… For three or four weeks we were constant companions. And finally, one afternoon, we ended up in her hotel room.” She told Allan: “Capa is my friend, my copain,” and said she might be travelling to China with him. “Nothing was settled,” wrote Allan. “Everything was possible.”
On Sunday 25July, the pair found themselves trapped in a foxhole near Brunete as bombs fell around them relentlessly. Taro kept on photographing, often holding her camera high above her head to capture the carnage. Allan protected her with a film camera as shrapnel and rocks fell around them. Then, as republican troops began pulling out of the area, Taro and Allan ran out of the foxhole and hitched a ride on the running board of a car while the planes continued to strafe the retreating convoy. In the chaos, the car was then rammed by an out-of-control republican tank and the couple were thrown into the dirt. Transported to a nearby field hospital, Taro died from her injuries in the early hours of the following morning. She was 26. The injured Allan did not get to see her again. According to Irene Golden, the nurse who was on duty, her last words were: “Did they take care of my camera?”
Gerda Taro’s funeral in Paris was attended by tens of thousands of mourners, including Capa, Chim and Ted Allan. Orchestrated by the French communist party, which claimed her as one of its own, it became, as Schaber puts it, “a spectacular manifestation of international solidarity with the Spanish republic”. In death, Gerda Taro became a hero. Robert Capa went on to become the most celebrated and mythologised war photographer of the century until he, too, died in action in Indochina in 1954 at the age of 40. “He never talked about her,” says the photographer Ata Kandó in The Mexican Suitcase.
Gerda Taro has now fully emerged from the shadow of Capa as an important photographer in her own right. Many photographs attributed to him – they initially shared the byline CAPA – have now been identified as hers. “She was a pioneering woman both as a photographer and a political activist,” says Ziff. “She was very liberated for her time, putting her work before any more traditional female role. She had reinvented herself – but the Capa myth was so strong that, even when she died, some newspapers described her as Robert Capa’s wife. Their lives were entwined, but she was very much her own woman, and he knew that. They both believed that their photographs could change the world and change the way people think. And their photographs did.”
So my Xperia phone gave up after a long fight of three years, a few months ago. Right now I am using a borrowed XOLO with a cracked/spoilt camera. So all the pictures I click with it are more or less useless but I nevertheless decided to use it! Making the best of the worst, so proud of myself! 😛
I even started a hashtag i.e. #ProjectBlurred, thinking that it would turn out to be something revolutionary and amazing. A girl is allowed to dream, right?
Here are some attempts:
I finally got the chance to visit a Lighthouse people!! The ticket was only worth 10 rupees, can you believe it?
So on the last day of my trip to Udupi, we decided to visit the Kaup Beach. The beach is really beautiful with the blue Arabian Sea roaring in front of you. Also, this shore was really deep compared to all other beaches, you step 10 steps into the water and you are completely submerged, the waves were also much higher and wilder.
To be frank, this kind of blue is a rare sight so I was really pleased. But, let’s not digress from the Lighthouse! Let me give you a step by step description. So we walked some 50 steps to reach the main door of the lighthouse. At first it was closed but thankfully opened half an hour later.
Then there were an additional 100+ steps to reach the top. There were a set of spacious spiral steps and another set of very steep and congested steps. I was really scared while clicking this picture because I was literally standing on the edge, holding out the camera in front of me and people were passing behind me in the tiny space.
This crazy bunch of guys you see walking down, were shit scared and took forever to step down, I utilised the time to click pictures while the others blamed them and not me for slowing down the crowd. Then there were also these beautiful windows which gave a view of the outside and when you’re tired because of the climbing, it also provided you with a breath of fresh air. 😛
When I finally reached the top, huffing and sweating and panting (almost sounded like the wolf from Three Little Pigs there), this view welcomed me!
It was totally worth the climb. I took pictures of all 4 directions, and of the top and bottom as well. There was a family chilling on a patch of stones right below where I was standing.
Finally after clicking about 50 pictures I came down, it was almost the time for sunset. I was just really happy that I saw something new. Oh and I also had one whole fried fish, alone! It was yummy! Thankyou Kaup (Kapu) Beach! ❤
Inspired from Ai Weiwei’s Black cover book, our visual design teacher told us to make a book of our own. Something that would provoke thought, something that you can’t express to the world otherwise. Call it shortage of time or whatever, but I decided to use poetry/writing from my blog to make the book, also considering the fact that this blog is a pretty private affair, not many people whom I am close with know about it. So just the poetry wasn’t enough. I decided to couple it with art, i.e. paper cuts that I could manage. Here is the first page, also why I call it the Leaf Book.
I found this leaf outside college and safely placed it between the pages of a book. It was really beautiful how each and every vein of it was visible, I wonder how that happens.
So I decided to write about the four elements and four seasons because I find them really inspiring. I wrote the passage while I was sitting at Marine Drive alone one night, the passage on Height, I wrote while I was sitting on the water tank on my terrace and listening to music, again on another night.
This passage was also written on a night while contemplating love and hate…
The passage on the left page was written after a fight with a loved one, and the one on the right was written in considerably opposite circumstances.
So that’s the explanation for MY LEAF BOOK! The papercutting took a lot of time, especially the spring page. You can clearly see what each season and element means to me. Nature has always been a strong inspiration in my life. Ever after I started travelling by myself, the mountains have held some kind of magic for me that compels me to write, and also the serenity and silence of nature. These are just some of the products of that inspiration. ❤
Searching for a wall
My journey with Delhi’s Street Art and Graffiti sparked off when I visited HKV some 4 years back, during my graduation from Lady Shri Ram College. Me and my friends wandered down the narrow alleyways and suddenly encountered a vacant lot covered with big colourful murals on three sides. I just couldn’t put my phone down. We couldn’t take our eyes off it and wanted to photograph every piece of art in every nook and corner. And every time we went back, the wall was covered with brand new graffiti or street art.
I am originally from Lucknow where there is hardly any such art and after Lucknow I shifted to Delhi for my undergrad and that is where I was first exposed to Street Art. This was a new form of artistic expression for me; it made me really curious to understand the whereabouts of this art-form. This heightened with my shift to Mumbai for my masters. There was a sharp contrast in the themes on Mumbai walls and that of Delhi. In Mumbai too there has been a recent spurt in Street Art and while I explored the city the idea struck my mind that I should do something in this field. On my return to Delhi for my internship I was given the chance to bring to reality, my ideas. With the recent wave of street art and the much talked about St+Art Festival, there was so much new street art waiting to be explored in Delhi. I had returned to Delhi after living in Mumbai for a year and I was really excited to go out into the city once again and revisit all those loved places and some new ones.
Figure 1: Two of the many Bollywood inspired murals in Bandra, Mumbai
This pull towards graffiti and street art materialized with my exploration of Delhi and its material culture at Anand Foundation. On my first day at Anand Foundation I expressed my wish to work in this field; my wish was granted in a way I could never have imagined. In my first meeting we discussed the probable areas and themes I could cover under Graffiti and Street Art. After the 16th December case in Delhi, women empowerment and safety had taken the forefront and a lot of street art had begun to be inspired by these issues. Being a Feminist, we came upon the conclusion that my research topic should be coupled with Feminism.
It wasn’t an easy task to couple feminism along with street art since as it is there is not much graffiti in the city and over and above that we are limiting it to a particular theme. When I started visiting the many inked walls of the city: the theme of Women Empowerment was something that screamed for attention. Though, Street Art is just a recent spurt in the city, and there is not much graffiti around the city – the theme of women safety and women oriented paintings immediately caught my attention. This link between the city art and women pointed towards the very obvious concerns of the NCR with women and empowerment. Due to the recent St+Art Festival a lot of street art had flourished in the city and it provided me with the golden opportunity to research on it.
The founder of Delhi Street Art (DSA), Yogesh Saini, in an interview titled “Through the looking Glass” to University Express, talks about how it all started with the painting of trash cans in Lodi Gardens. The St+Art festival was organised by Arjun Bahl, Hanif Kureshi and Akshat Nauriyal. The Google Cultural Institute has launched a recent street art project which curates street art from around the world and displays it on their website. The St+Art Foundation are representing their festival there. The festival was organised during January and February 2014 and brought together artists from across the world to world to New Delhi.
When exactly street art began in Delhi is a hard question to answer. It’s been a gradual phenomenon and one of the best known and recognised graffiti artists in Delhi is Daku. Everyone in Delhi must have encountered something done by Daku since he is almost everywhere. When I asked Zine, another very famous graffiti artist based in Delhi, about the evolution of graffiti, he replied, “Graffiti as an art form itself has grown many heights. It came from the poor neighbourhoods of America in the 60s and 70s and today there’s graffiti in every part of the world and its one big community of artists . . . Graffiti has a beautiful process of evolution. An artist’s skill set and growth can be witnessed by all since it is out there for everyone to see and probably judge. From the first painting that a graffiti artist laid on a wall to the latest painting – can be seen through the years of that evolution by the “audience” and that to me is very special and raw!” This says a lot about the growth of Graffiti in a city like Delhi. It all started with Hauz Khas Village and now has spread to various parts of the city. People witnessed it in their everyday life, they spread the word around, it gained popularity and it was a trend that was here to stay.
Figure 2: Trash Cans painted by the volunteers of Delhi Street Art at Lodi Gardens.
As Tiffany Conklin in her dissertation “Street-Art Ideology and Public Space” points out – how street art is a window into the city’s soul and very aptly so. She defines graffiti as a “culture of words” and street art as a “culture of symbols.”The recent bout of street art was all about spreading awareness about social issues and one major issue among them was the problems that women were facing. I also feel that street art is a means to give voice to the “deep human urges of free expression” and it fits into the “larger context of power struggle and representation.”
Choosing the Colours
Not being an artist, the world of paintings, graphics, sketches, etc., always fascinated me. I wondered what inspired a person to indulge in art of any kind. In fact, it was important to get a perspective of an artist before I delved into the lives of professional graffiti artists and figured out what exactly motivates them to do something so unique and different!
Aakash, who pursues painting as a hobby said that he had two roads to choose from when he passed his boards. He appeared for his IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) exams along with NID (National Institute of Design). But then he chose the former, and continues to pursue art as a hobby. He says, “An art course can’t teach you what comes from inside of you.” He was inspired to do art by the very fact that he would hold something tangible in his hands of which he would be proud of. The fact that whatever was in his thoughts and imagination would be materialised in front of him through his sole effort was what motivated him to do art and made his “life meaningful”. He mentioned that he believed that there was less money in art and more opportunities in engineering and that was a reason why he chose engineering over art.
In my exploration and wandering across the city- I came across an article that gave me a new perspective and dimension to my work. The article titled “Stars on Streets” (The Hindu, 9th April, 2015) talked about how from street vendors to beauty parlours to auto rickshaws – all employed the technique of using colourful posters of movie stars to woo customers. It talked about how from street vendors to beauty parlours to auto rickshaws – all employed the technique of using colourful posters of movie stars to woo customers. This is one form of street art that often goes unnoticed. Not only this, we encounter art even n the backs and sides of trucks and trailers on the road every day. How can we forget that some of the biggest artists like M. F. Hussain began their journey by painting hoardings! This brought to the fore other manifestations of wall art and graffiti that is being used in our daily lives in forms of Rangolis, Warli art, Madhubani Art and the drawing of deities and symbols during religious ceremonies. Warli Art, specially is being used everywhere these days in the form of prints on clothes and as designs for notebooks etc.
The scribbling of art on the wall cannot be just reduced to modern urban phenomena. Warli art and Madhubani art has existed in India since time immemorial. Warli art is ritual art in the coastal areas of Maharashtra- Gujarat border. It is done inside the huts where the walls are covered with a mixture of branches, red earth and cow dung which gives it a red ochre colour and the paint is made up of rice paste with water and gum. The drawings thus, are always in white and are composed of pictorial representations of the human form and animals too, combined together to form stories and sometimes these stories also teach a lesson. Madhubani art is practised in the state of Bihar. It was earlier done on the walls and floors of mud houses but now it is also practised on cloth, paper and canvas. It mostly contains images of human beings and its association with nature and religious plants. The special thing about this art is that there are no gaps left in the paintings, they are filled by images of flowers, leaves, etc., making the artwork really dense and beautiful.
Making an Outline
During my stay in Delhi, I stayed in the hostel at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). And when you visit the campus, you cannot ignore the presence of the street art. The walls of the institution are full of posters by political parties which are trying to spread awareness about every issue possible. Women empowerment is one of the major aspects in the art. The brightly painted posters not only attract you but also make you think. The message accompanying the posters is also extremely hard-hitting and it makes you question conventions, norms and the present state of affairs.
The viewers of this art had some mixed reactions. Some people said that it’s redundant in an institution like JNU where everyone already knows everything about these issues, “Preaching the preached” was their concern. But then there were some students who argued that when suddenly these posters appear in front of you they have a really hard-hitting impact. “The radical ideas stick to your mind unlike lengthy books and monotonous speeches. It is an important part of the identity of JNU,” said a student studying International Relations at the University. Another student studying Political Science said that “There’s a difference between being literate and being educated. Even though these students come from a good educational background, they need this. Some people here really need to change their mentality!”
Sandeep Sourav, who is currently a student at JNU and is doing his Ph. D. in Hindi Literature, is one of these artists. He says that he is just a small part of a big team of artists who put up these posters around JNU. He states that these paintings are extremely important since it is not only for the students but for so many people who come from outside and live in JNU. He claims that these posters make it easier for us to reach out to the audience since a visual message is more articulate, and all the more so when accompanied by a hard-hitting caption. He also reflected on how it is important for the political parties to take the initiative to make these posters with a motive to work for the society towards its development and to spread awareness about social issues. He also signed off by telling me to keep an eye out for the posters that will be coming up under AISA’s ‘Freedom without Fear’ campaign which are all about women empowerment.
Alongside are some of the posters put up by AISA and SFI (political parties at JNU) depicting the miseries faced by women. The first poster is about how Dalit women have become victims on account of their caste and the state protects the offenders because supposedly women from these castes “deserve this”. The poster also recounts the names of places where these misfortunate events took place. The image is a horrific one. After the woman gets raped, not only her but her family is also evicted from the villages, their homes are burnt. It’s always the woman who is found at fault, the man has to face no shame and walks freely and lives a normal life.
Figure 3: Poster put up by AISA and SFI at Kamla Complex, JNU.
In this poster by SFI, we see an image of a woman who has hanged herself because of the harassment she has to go face in her everyday life. In a really touching poem by Meena Kandasamy, the message that is being conveyed to us is that how women have to face the wrath after she is raped, and not the offender. Here is a woman crying out for freedom, for equality and for revenge. She tells us how she was violated by her landlord and how being raped branded her as ‘impure’. So many women have committed suicide after being raped, since the society blames them and not the culprit for the rape. It’s the woman who is supposed to be the one at fault and it’s assumed that she has lost her honour and not the man for committing such an atrocious crime.
Figure 4: Poster put up by SFI outside the JNU Library.
This poster by SFI talks about alternate sexualities – there are lesbians on the left and a gay couple on the right. The imagery is very beautiful in the way the posters have shown the passion between two people in a very subtle way without having offended anyone’s sensibilities and at the same time the message of normalising homosexuality reaches across to the audience so easily.
|Figure 5: Poster put up by AISA in a JNU canteen.|
The poster above is of Irom Sharmila who has been fighting against AFSPA and is on a hunger strike since the year 2000. Her demand to the Government is to repeal the Armed Forces Special Protection Act which has been committing acts of violence on the people who live in parts of the north-east. Women specially are faced with extreme forms of exploitation on the hands of the Indian Army under this act, so much so that 30 women protested in support of Sharmila in front of the Assam Rifle Headquarters, holding a banner saying “Indian Army Rape Us”.
Figure 6: Another poster depicting Irom Sharmila.
In these posters put up by AISA, the one on the right talks about giving freedom to women, smashing patriarchy. It also highlights the many problems faced by women today – honour killing, rape, discrimination, female infanticide, domestic violence, sexual harassment, dowry, etc. The poster on the left highlights the problems that women face today in their houses. How they are caged and when they, metaphorically, try to breakthrough, they are left to bleed to death. The poem in the poster tells us how the death of these women is the death of half of mankind itself.
Figure 7: Posters near the Administrative Block, JNU.
Then there were these posters again by AISA, asking women to raise their voices against inequality and patriarchy. The caption accompanying the picture on the right says “It’s time to leave the confines of dark rooms and closed doors and to come forward and march on the roads in a procession to fight for your rights.” It’s amazing how the political parties have managed to cover almost every contemporary issue. It has been rightly said in reference to JNU: “The walls teach you so much more than the classrooms do.”
Filling in the colours
After JNU I decided to visit Shahpur Jat and Hauz Khas Village, which were two of the main locations where St+Art was active the most. Shahpur Jat Village and Hauz Khas Village are urban villages which have now become the hub for youngsters since there has been a flourish of bars, cafes and designer boutiques. To quote Google Cultural Institute, both the villages “can be regarded as representative of the larger economic dsparity that exists in ‘globalised’ Indian cities”. On the one hand there are these posh localities and there are still rural residential areas nearby.
Figure 8: Mural of Nadira at Shahpur Jat
The Mural above was done by Ranjit Dahiya. The actress Nadira was painted here as a part of the ‘Bollywood Art Project’ under St+Art. It’s interesting how the artist chose Nadira as the piece to be painted. She wasn’t your typical hindi film heroine, she wore western clothes and was often cast as the temptress or the vamp. In this mural as well, we see her smoking a cigarette and a wine glass in front of her. The stereotyping of women can clearly be seen here in the sense that women who drink and smoke are assumed to be bad women – vamps. Why the artist chose this particular mural is a reason to be contemplated. In the present scenario though things might have changed, the image is a fascinating one. A woman in a modern attire might appeal more to the audience today and to the women as well.
Figure 9: Mural by Alina at Shahpur jat
Photo Courtesy: Akshat Nauriyal
This particular mural by Alina from Denmark represents a group of women in a very serene and calm setting. The mural evokes peacefulness and camarederie for me. A resident of the building opposite the mural told me how she could see a close alliance of women with nature – another powerful force on Earth.
Figure 10: Mural by Sergeio Cordeiro at Shahpur Jat.
Photo courtesy: Akshat Nauriyal
This particular mural named ‘Voodoo Woman’ was done by Sergeo Cordeiro at Shahpur Jat. Google Cultural Institute quotes him as saying: “Not everyone will get it, but there is a message of empowering women – giving them respect and security. They shoul be free you know.” It’s true that women are considered most powerful when they are believed to posess such magical powers as the ones that thes voodoo woman has. People have always been afraid of witches and have tried to burn them at the stake. This is probably the only form of a woman that terrifies them. Here is one strong, powerful, empowered woman who can make men dance on her instructions – quite literally.
Figure 11: Mural by Jaao Samina at HKV.
The mural on the right was done by Jaao Samina from Portugal at Hauz Khas Village. The photograph is of an anonymous Indian woman. It has been done as a tribute to the Indian woman and all the trials and tribulations that she has to go through. It’s an image of a typical housewife – who looks after the children, serves her husband, caters to the whole family’s needs, cooks, cleans and what not. The list is never ending. To me, the smile on her face is a reminder of how even after such hard work there is a smile on her face and her love for her family and kids don’t diminish even by a fraction.
My visit to Hauz Khas Village was a really interesting one, in the process of looking at murals and taking pictures, I met a graffiti artist at work. Santosh, who is just 17 years of age, is a budding graffiti artist who was working at a graffiti tag. There was also a couple who was getting their pictures clicked by a professional photographer with the murals as the background. They borrowed a paintbrush from Santosh and the man posed as if he was spraying the woman on his side with those colours. As I watched this interesting series of events unfold, I realised how this graffiti is not just a source of joy to the artist, like Zine said, but also to so many other people who find it so fascinating. So many people get their modelling portfolios done with the graffiti as their background and everyday there is one more person uploading a profile picture on Facebook with these murals in the background.
A conversation with Santosh gave me a whole new perspective on street art and graffiti. He was a young graffitist with a zeal and passion for graffiti which in his words was his ‘addiction’. His father is also an artist and he himself is a lover of wild-style graffiti. There is a world of graffiti beyond all these hyped festivals which are government sanctioned and legal. It’s the dimension of graffiti that is hidden and illegal where people remain anonymous and reclaim their right to the public space by leaving their imprint on it. Santosh painted his first graffiti tag on the terrace of his house and then there was no stopping him. Now he paints graffiti at cafes, bars and even for political parties and their campaigns. People get fascinated by his profession but at the same time there is no dearth of advisors telling him to find something more productive since there is no career in Graffiti. But he reiterates how graffiti is his addiction like smoking is for some people. Even if it is harmful for him, there is no other way anymore. He has big plans for the future and wants to pursue fine arts after school. He told me about the Graffiti battle that he attended last year in Hyderabad and hopes to attend this year in Mumbai. He even sent me pictures of his works that he feels convey a message encouraging women empowerment.
Figure 12: Photo Courtesy: Santosh
The two pictures above exemplify the statement “A picture is worth a thousand words.” The first picture obviously talks about female foeticide and the statistics today clearly show how the number of men is so much more than the number of women today. Not only that, we can also see this image as a portrayal of how men are considered stronger and more powerful. It is amazing how all that has been expressed with the help of a simple beam balance and the symbol for male and female. The second picture is of a woman who resembles an Indian Goddess with several hands. The hands, in this case, are not holding a flower, a trishul, etc. Instead she is holding household items that a typical Indian homemaker uses. She is also holding a baby girl in her hand. The nourishing goddess figure is replaced by the nourishing figure of the mother.
Adding Finishing Touches
The most interesting and perhaps the strongest symbol of women empowerment – a mural of Rani Lakshmi Bai was done by Lady Aiko from Japan at Meherchand Market near Lodi Gardens. Lady Aiko is a street artist from Japan and her pieces are always influenced by women in some way or the other. It’s really interesting how she has interpreted the image of Rani Lakshmi Bai, being from a foreign country, in her own way. She has used her typical stencilling style and there are floral designs in the background while Rani Lakshmi Bai brandishes her sword with a smile on her face and her baby on her back.
|Figure 13: Murals at Connaught Place.|
Figure 14: Mural of Rani Lakshmi Bai. Photo Courtesy: Akshat Nauriyal.
When I went to Connaught Place after so many days I was enchanted by the street art on the wall right between the inner circle and the outer circle. There was an open cage and birds were flying out of it and there was a woman riding a majestic bird, as free as the wind, leading all the other birds flying behind her. On the adjoining wall there was another woman riding the waves and sitting in a pose that is typical of a female goddess. The female character was associated with two very important elements – water and air – which represent freedom itself. Both the images are really empowering in the sense that they are metaphorically portrayed in control of one element of nature which gives them power which no one else possesses.
Figure 15: Murals at Delhi University, North Campus
Two years ago, a street art competition was held at the North Campus of Delhi University in which students took part to paint murals on whatever themes they chose on the wall right outside the Vice Chancellor’s Office. The themes that these students chose were really interesting since they were all about spreading awareness about one social issue or another. On my visit there I could identify a lot of them relating to the themes of women empowerment or just highlighting the issue of the oppression of women.
In the two murals above, we see that the woman is being followed or stalked by strange men. In the first picture it appears like she has been put in chains and the men are conspiring to harm her and then most probably kill her, as indicated by the ‘trishul’. The smirk and the evil expressions on the faces of these men clearly indicate their intentions. This is a problem that almost every woman goes through in her life – being stalked by men who leer at her and insult her. The minimum amount of respect that she deserves is also not accorded to her.
|Figure 16: Mural at DU|
In this particular mural, the artist has just tried to represent all kinds of women that exist in India. There is a woman in a burqa but at the same time there is a woman in a modern attire, there are working women and housewives, students and then there are shadows of women whom you can assume to be whatever you want. The artist, I think, is trying to portray the changing face of women in India. Compared to the ages passed, today women stand on an equal standing with men. Why the artist decided to portray these particular images is a question to be reckoned with. The image of a burqa-clad woman and a woman in a dress in the same row might be used as a contrast but it is to an extent stereotyping the fact that these two women are different on account of the way they dress in. They could have been working at the same place and just the fact that she is wearing a burqa doesn’t mean that she does not feel as free as the woman in the dress. Everything else is pretty much in shadows and is left to the imagination of the audience.
|Figure 17: Mural at DU (Left), Picture by me. Mural at Shahpur Jat (Right). Picture Courtesy: Akshat Nauriyal|
Admiring your masterpiece
These were some really interesting murals, one of the pictures is from the DU wall, and the other one I found online, is from Shahpur Jat. I wanted to end my paper with these pictures because in these pictures we see firstly, a woman roaming on the streets at night and secondly, a woman as someone who is watching something on the street and not being watched. These women have claimed the streets for themselves – the streets are public spaces and should be free to all and that is what these women are trying to do here. The similarity between street-art/graffiti and the condition of women is exactly this – the effort to reclaim the streets and free spaces for themselves. The fact that street art is being used to spread this message makes a lot more sense now. It’s an arrow shooting two targets at the same time.
So this is where my journey ended, or maybe not. This was an experience that is going to stay with me throughout my life. No matter where and when I encounter a piece of graffiti or street art, I am definitely going to take a moment to admire and analyse it. The response that street art is gathering today in Delhi ensures that with time it will only get more popular, and that it is here to stay.
Shenaz Parveen, Project Director, Anand Foundation.
Ruchika Sharma, Student, JNU.
Sandeep Sourav, Student/AISA member, JNU.
Aakash Srivastava, Student, DTU.
Zine, Graffiti Artist.
Santosh Maharane, Graffiti Artist/Student.
Wrote this on a windy afternoon at the Safderjung Tomb, Delhi.
In the chaos of the city, I found silence, amidst nature. These small pockets of Earth in its natural form, though not devoid of human influence… the cool breeze after a midnight shower of rain, the dried leaves of trees brushing past your skin on their way to kiss the ground… squirrels prancing about in search of food… insects, one-tenth the size of your finger nail sliding across the pages of your notebook… so frail that when you sweep them away, they leave marks on the blank page… red ants, black ants, multicolored insects… a circle of motherly shade around you from the tree that supports you… you take pictures but they can never be as fresh and as green as the leaves below your feet… the ant that traverses that labyrinth of leaves can never be as lively on film as in that moment before your eyes… neither will the sunlight filtering through the leaves, on to the page you’re writing on, ever feel that warm or yellow again. Cherish nature, live it, love it.
A photo essay on clouds compiled of pictures that I clicked over a few years. I realised there are very few pictures from Mumbai, maybe because there are too many high-rise buildings around to ever give a clear view of the skies.
Today me and my roommate decided to decorate our room with origami. We looked at YouTube tutorials, all set with brightly coloured origami sheets but all in vain. The end results weren’t that fascinating as compared to those on the screen. We tried making swans and cranes and bunnies and we even looked at 3-D origami swans. Apparently it needs 1024 tiles to be completed. And the time we take to make 32 tiles from an A4 sheet of paper is approximately 15 minutes. So yeah, a very tough task lies ahead of us.
Even while we were watching these videos, they were so tough to follow. I was like “What kind of sorcery is this?”, “Fucking hell this is impossible!”, “I give up!”, etc. In the end I realised that it’s quite an exercise in patience, focus and hardwork. I was reminded of all the popular culture references, Claire making origami cranes in House of Cards and Michael Scofield in Prison Break. We were actually following a tutorial which supposedly would teach us how to make “The Prison Break Crane”. It was a fun exercise nevertheless, and we have decided to work on 2 pieces every week. Do tell me about good tutorials if you know any and post a link in the comments section. Thank you very much. 🙂
Will be adding the pictures of the failed attempts soon. Facing Camera problems at the moment.
There is no other city I have ever been to which has as many shades as you. The spectrum of colours just isn’t enough to define your characteristics. The day I met you, you bewildered me with your speed and intensity. You intrigued me and I was in awe of you. Slowly, with time, you warmed up to me and I reached out for your hand of friendship. But then suddenly, you withdrew and displayed you hidden hues. I was alone again. I have never before experienced the freedom that you gave me, I will give you that. But all that disappears when you want to punish me. You gave me so many beautiful days and even more beautiful nights at the seaside. We rejoiced in the shower of rains and the winters, though negligible, was my favourite time with you. I plead to you to be kinder to those who love you. I know it is not in your hands to control what the people who depend upon you do, only if there was some way you could punish them too. Mumbai, you have been good and bad, an angel and the devil, a hand in need and a hand that pushes away, I cannot ever describe my exact relation with you.
But these bittersweet memories and this love-hate relationship are something I would never give up for anything in the world.