How St+Art Changed The Way People View Street Art In India

The urban India we live in today is divided on the era before and after street art. Courtesy of a group of socially responsible young adults who felt like it was their duty to give back to the cities and the inhabitants a sense of creativity and imagination that had never even been up for consideration before. Contemporary art in the country has undergone a perceptional makeover because one foundation decided it was time that art changed the face of the country—not just for outsiders; but, even for the residents of the nation. 
How These Individuals Shaped India's Street Art
© From L to R - Akshat Nauriyal, Content Director, Hanif Kureshi, Art Director, Giulia Ambrogi, Festival Curator, Thanish Thomas, Project Director & Arjun Bahl - Festival Director_ Photography by Naman Saraiya
In 2014, a bunch of artists came together and started a movement; although an understated one at the time, that went on to become an artistic revolution.  Thereafter, Indians came to know a form of street art, through the visions and creations of St+Art India; a non-profit organization that has been adding color and creativity to the barren walls and districts of the prominent cities in the country, ever since. 
“It all started back in the day when I was shooting a video for one of the first group walls that had happened, in the Hauz Khas lot. The wall was painted by Bond, Daku, Zion and a few more artists. That's when I got in touch with the street art community,” says Akshat Nauriyal, Content Director & Co-Founder of St+Art India. At the time, Nauriyal used to share a studio with Hanif Kureshi, Art Director & Co-Founder, who in turn, introduced Nauriyal to Arjun Bahl, Festival Director & Co-Founder. Giulia Ambrogi, who at the time had been traveling in the country for an art festival in Khirki, New Delhi as well as to meet some of her Italian artist friends, came on board as the curator at the St+Art festivals. Together, the four of them, along with Thanish Thomas, Project Director & Co-Founder, paved the way for an art form that had previously been as non-existent as the advertisements on the walls.

How These Individuals Shaped India's Street Art
© St+Art at Lodhi Art District St+Art, New Delhi

“The idea was to move away from the elusive nature of the uptight art gallery concepts that the cities have to offer,” Nauriyal tells me. “It's like a novelty of the rich and elite. Even someone like me feels really suffocated and constricted in an art gallery; like I'll drop something on the art work. It's difficult to even breathe; that's the aura it creates.” At the time, the most one got out of supposed street art was the rather brash political signage and the in-your-face ‘gupt rog' information that defaced the walls of the cities. What it meant was there was no background to street art and there was no connotation at all like in the West. Because of graffiti culture and vandalism, it earned a rather negative connotation. That's where the urge stemmed from. Nauriyal reminisces one of the earliest projects they took on under the St+Art India banner, at Shahpur Jat, New Delhi. “We literally went around knocking on people's walls, asking them if we could do this and they had no idea what we were talking about. So, we would have to show them pictures of what we had in mind,” he narrates. He explains that every new community shows an initial bit of hesitation and resistance that only comes from the fact that they don't know what they want to do. But once they started, the entire community really opened up.

How These Individuals Shaped India's Street Art
© Unusual Usual by Do & Khatra at Makhta, Hyderabad

“We essentially wanted to make art more democratic,” says Nauriyal. “We want people to look at public spaces as not being sterile, plain, or non-interactive structures; but something that could also initiate conversation and, in some form, inculcate a thought process which extends from painting beautiful things to painting deeper meanings via projects and spaces that have a deeply rooted social context.” St+Art, from its inception, worked as an Indian platform for Indian artists to be exposed on a global stage which was definitely not happening before. It was to create an ecosystem around street art. 

The difference was instant. The conversations changed; as did the perceptions. Before long, people were flocking to the prominent areas where, in a matter of days, art had cropped up that was worth marveling at and talking about. While earlier, any and all talks of art existed in a very small chamber—most of which was restricted to art galleries and high teas—now, every street side vendor, every kid next door and every pedestrian were discussing street art. A museum might get anywhere between 100 to 200 visitors a day; on the grandest of occasions; the St+Art India foundation had, in a short span of time, gained footfalls that crossed thousands in a day! They had started the conversation, and from there various other projects. Other artists, too, began to look at public spaces as a canvas. 

How These Individuals Shaped India's Street Art
© St+Art India

Over the years, Akshat tells us they've worked with over 20 cultural institutions across the board. “You name a country and we're probably speaking to their consulates over here,” he quips confidently. On an average, the organization works with approximately 25 to 30 artists, per festival. It means that by now they will have worked with over 100 to 150 artists, at least, across all festivals and projects; Indian and International. Most of their funding comes from the sponsors and partners; Asian Paints being a recurring one; year-on-year. “They see value in what we do. They understood where we were coming from and it wasn't about just about branding. We were clear about the purpose of art being paramount and not venturing into a commercial space,” Akshat says. But, that's just one aspect. 
Being a non-profit organization that may or may not gain favour with governments and local authorities posed one of the biggest challenges initially for St+Art to grow. “When we were doing the first few festivals, it was a bit difficult working with the authorities. But, we tried to create a few landmarks within the city and activate spaces that are not really inhabited and bring art into the spaces,” Akshat says. With the creation of the Lodhi Art District, in Lodhi Colony, New Delhi and the Dadasaheb Phalke Mural in Mumbai, conversations became easier. 

How These Individuals Shaped India's Street Art
© Dwa Zeta at Lodhi Art District, St+Art Delhi

“People have this opinion of the government being this close-minded institution; but they are pretty open-minded, progressive and forward thinking. It may sound strange,” he reveals. “Of course, they come with their own set of obstacles but those are fairly negotiable and are also within realistic demands. It's understandable because there's a lot of red tape bureaucracy involved and most people have bosses that want things done their way. The point is these are partnerships we're creating; not one-sided conversations.” Akshat and his team present sketches to the authorities following which, they identify an artist and a surface. The plan is then presented at every stage to ensure transparency. “There are ways of winning their trust which we've explored in our own way now and we have a certain format of approaching these projects which is why the government has been great to work with,” he further explains. 

How These Individuals Shaped India's Street Art
© Cubbon Park Metro Station Bangalore by Artez, St+Art

Together, the organization has worked with various government bodies, like the Delhi Police Headquarters, the BMRC in Bangalore and Mumbai. “The government also sees value in these projects; especially, with the whole idea of smart cities coming up because that's where the world is moving. Art and culture is a huge part of building a smart city. So things are changing as well. It's difficult for people, yes. But, overall it's been great,” he reiterates. 
As an organization, St+Art India has done approximately 6 large scale festivals so far; they're gearing up for the next edition, soon enough. “With every festival we do, we try to have projects that are a balance of things that are good to look at versus things that are socially relevant and contextual,” Akshat explains. “I'd be lying if I said all the projects we do are socially relevant and I'd be lying if I said all the projects are just aesthetically pleasing.” Depending on the artist that they're working with the team decides on a project basis on the location. This also means having some boundaries of the kind of work that they put out in the public domain. “We stay away from overtly political and religious statements, or picking sides on news events. This doesn't mean that we don't make statements, or don't challenge the society and the norms on things that are happening,” he shares. 

How These Individuals Shaped India's Street Art
© Olek, St+Art, India

In 2015, for instance, St+Art, along with the government body, got Olek, a well known crochet artist, to create a massive artwork on the walls of the famous night shelter in Sarai Kale Khan to attract the homeless and make them aware of the Rain Baseras project—a project of night shelters created around the city by the government for the homeless. Similarly, in 2016, Banglore-based artist, Shilo Shiv Suleman teamed up with a government foundation called, Sewing New Futures—an organization that works for the betterment of women forced into sex trafficking in the Najafgarh area—and, along with volunteers from the foundation, painted one of the walls in the Lodhi Art District. The mural itself, tells the story of an older woman telling a younger woman that life is going to get better and to not lose hope. In yet another collaboration, St+Art came together with the Aravani Art Project in Banaglore which works with transgender people; bringing them out in the public spaces to let them paint, get them visibility and show people that they are skilled at many other things in life, rather than just the small opportunities that society gives them. 

How These Individuals Shaped India's Street Art
© Aravani Art Project, St+Art Banaglore

Art can be the ideal medium for putting out a social message. The role that St+Art as an organization plays today is not just to brighten someone's day up with beautiful artwork; but, to provoke a socially relevant statement. It's an important measure, as a reflection of society and an artist. “Because of the massive projection and reach it can have, as a medium, it stands to be able to project a lot more voices to a lot more people than most mediums we have today; especially compared to the gallery structure which is marginalising people,” Akshat opines. 

How These Individuals Shaped India's Street Art
© Shilo Shiv Suleman, St+Art India

Like any emerging scene, it takes time to get the mass' attention and the artists to get to the purview of the masses. But, the important point is, the conversation has begun. The word is out and it's spreading, like wildfire—wall to wall; city to city. “When we started off there wasn't some ‘How To Do Street Art Festival In India' manual. We've written that manual as we went along,” Akshat reminds us. Thanks to the digital boom, St+Art has become a global medium based on imagery. “Maybe the whole country doesn't know about street art in India; but that doesn't mean that worldwide we're not visible,” Akshat quips. “Our audience is global. We have an organic following built on the basis of the work and appreciation. It's okay to cater only to the people who care about you rather than catering to 10,000 people out of which 9,000 people don't care.” 

How These Individuals Shaped India's Street Art
© Daku St+Art Delhi

http://www.mensxp.com/culture/arts/39512-how-st-art-changed-the-way-people-view-street-art-in-india.html

Credits -   DESSIDRE FLEMING  SEP 12, 2017
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