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Graffiti in India –  Celebrating Traditional Indian Art 

Graffiti in India is a mixed bag of history, tradition, love for art, need for beautification, and rebellion against socio-political issues. Ages ago, artists birthed a tradition that today is celebrated as a form of expression and a means of celebrating traditional Indian art. Although Indian wall art culture inspires it, people often dismiss graffiti in India as vandalism in modern times. This form of artistic expression has been through a fascinating transformation over the decades. From being a rebellious chaos it went on to take the face of cultural significance and a visual narrative that resonates with the audience.

In today’s time, India’s streets apart from bustling during peak hours have also become a canvas that represents Indian culture, communities and thoughts. In hindsight, graffiti in India also acted as a tool to preserve and promote Indian traditional art. Moreover, artists used Indian traditional art to narrate stories or highlight a cause which struck a chord with the populace. As the anonymous graffiti artist known as “Guesswho” aptly puts it, “Artists aim to offer a new perspective. Sometimes, it’s a provocation, a catalyst for deeper conversations.”

As a matter of fact, hoardings, advertisements, banners, and posters already populate Indian public places. And in such a situation, graffiti art comes as a rescue to beautify the chaos and clutter.

Graffiti in India – The Roots and Early Beginnings

Mural art in India has its roots deep in the history of the wall painting tradition, used as a creative form of expression. The tradition dates back to prehistoric times when early men used simple tools to engrave inside the cave to signify their gods and evolution. Over the centuries, it has evolved, embracing the vibrant frescoes of ancient temples and intricately painted palace murals. 

Additionally, this tradition was prevalent and is still thriving in rural regions of India. People often decorate mud huts with designs that symbolize a festival, ceremony, or their surrounding habitat, using mostly earthy tones obtained from organic materials. Here are a few examples of traditional and folk art in India that transcended from mud walls to canvas and back to modern graffiti.

Source – Pinterest

Madhubani – Also known as Mithila art, originated in the Mithila region in Bihar, India. Centuries ago, women made Madhubani paintings on freshly plastered walls and floors of mud huts. The themes often revolve around religion, social scenes and elements of nature.

Source – Pinterest

Warli art – A tribal art that originated in Maharashtra, created by the tribe called Warli. The art is centred around the concept of revering Mother Nature. The tribals utilise their mud huts as a backdrop for their paintings. A clear parallel can be drawn between Warli art and today’s modern graffiti. the tribals used simple geometric shapes to represent their way of life, celebrations and traditions. Natural ingredients such as rice flour mixed with water and gum created a white pigment. It stood out against the red-ochre colour background obtained from branches, soil and red brick.

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Gond art – One of the largest tribal communities belonging to Central India, practised Gond art as a means of visual communication. This skill was handed down through generations, preserving the essence of their culture, belief and tradition. Comprising of vibrant colours obtained from flowers and rocks, the Gond paintings adorned tribal huts’ walls and floor. 

Graffiti in India – Integration of Traditional Art Forms 

The 1970s “painted” the country red, rather an alarming red with street walls looking vandalised with political agendas and explicit drawings. There also came a phase when walls were used as means of movie promotion. The streets looked like a scene straight out of a movie played in the theatre. This was taken into serious consideration by the Government of India and several other private projects which gave rise to the wave of beautification of walls in later 1980s and 90s. It transformed the street art into a mini Indian art exhibition.

Several Indian artists became adept at using Indian traditional art with contemporary themes. This beautiful fusion not only worked in favour of preserving the art but also made it more relevant for viewers with themes like gender equality, sustainability and environmental conservation.

Graffiti in India – Notable Projects

Source – (art in image – Warli Art)

St+Art India Foundation –

It is a non-profit organisation that takes up art projects in public spaces. The street art festival, an initiative  by St+Art gained momentum in major cities like Delhi, Kolkata and more. Lodhi Art – India’s first open-air public art district that featured murals by both Indian and international artists. This project was organised by the St+art India Foundation and it turned an ordinary neighbourhood into a spectacular cultural hub.

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Indian Railways Taking Folk Art to Places –

This was a new take on graffiti as it went beyond the confines of walls.  Bihar’s Sampark Kranti Express was vibrantly painted in Madhubani art, as a part of the state government’s project. It aimed to beautify the public transport system to preserve the art as well as create a platform for artists to showcase their traditional art talent.

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Another example of street walls in India turned into traditional art canvas. This is an image of a waiting hall in Secunderabad displaying a 50-ft-long Cheriyal art

The Dadar flyover in Mumbai is a burst of colours. The walls of this bustling place were given a makeover by students of J.J. School of Arts. A project initiated by BMC(Mumbai municipality) pictures various subjects from social issues, to celebration of Mumbai’s fast-paced life and historical monuments.

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Sassoon Dock – In a city where people barely have the time to stop and breathe, came to a standstill at the breathtaking street art festival in Mumbai, at the public dock. The initiative was meant to strengthen the art culture and celebrate the people of Mumbai coming from all walks of life.

In Conclusion

Graffiti in India fostered a sense of cultural belonging, pride and social morals among the urban communities. Street art has revived the urban landscape. It not only paved the way of livelihood for local artists but also boosted tourism and sparking conversations on a global platform. Though this form of expression comes with its share of challenges and legal issues, it still looks like a promising method to integrate Indian art and contemporary culture. With the ongoing support from local governments, authorities and NGOs, graffiti in India looks full of possibilities.

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