When you walk through the streets of Chennai, it is hard to miss the street art that colour the walls. From bold Tamil slogans to portraits of politicians, Chennai exhibits a different culture of street art. The concept of street art or graffiti has evolved over time in every aspect. Themes, motivations, mind sets and tools have changed with time. Interestingly, street art in Chennai is a perfect blend of the traditional with the modern and the local with the global.
While Chennai’s streets have a long way to go before they leave their mark on the canvas of street art across the world, it is fast developing and competing with cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.
EARLY STREET ART
Earlier, street art in Chennai largely consisted of billboard cut-outs of national icons like Mahatma Gandhi, deities like Ram and Hanuman and actors like Rajnikanth. These paintings evoked nationalist feelings and promoted solidarity. Artists used striking colours and rendered 3D images from memory. They precariously stood on scaffolds and manually produced life-size images.
Street art was indicative of prevalent festivals – Diwali, navratri and so on. It revealed the interests of people. Most importantly, the plethora of colours used on billboards, movie posters, advertisements and shop banners made the city vibrant and lively.
STREET ART TODAY
While political parties dominate the scene of street art in Chennai, young graffiti artists are adding a new dimension to it. Now, even graffiti depicting slogans, symbols and icons of political parties have backgrounds and texturing. Skilled artists employ new techniques like using OHP sheets.
But illustrations, ethnic patterns, landscape paintings, social messages and catchy lines take centre stage today.
“Although graffiti in Chennai does not resemble the West, it showcases icons and messages familiar and important to the locals”, said Joyston Bas, founder of Coloured Particles.
He adds that graffiti is also subliminal art. Some elements are deliberately cryptic requiring the viewer to put in some effort to understand it.
“Thematic street art depicting flowers, animals and festivals are also popular here”, said Karthick Chidambaram, Graffiti artist at Art Lab.
In Chennai, art on the road manifests itself in the form of kolam and rangoli during Navratri and the Mylapore festival.
Street graffiti in Chennai has become popular over the last six years. While there are only a handful of professional graffiti artists here, there are many amateur artists who engage in street art. What drives each of these groups is different.
“We wanted to do something to help society and finally decided on street art”, said 24-year-old Hari, co-founder of The Paint Box. The Paint Box is a group of youngsters who want to beautify Chennai and promote its culture. They believe that graffiti art will prevent people from urinating in public.
Many budding artists view street art as a platform for gaining recognition and support for their work.
Interestingly, what drives professionals like Karthick and Joyston is the sheer fun of painting on walls. They also consider it as the best way to convey one’s ideas, messages and opinions.
SUPPORT AND RECOGNITION
Street art is usually a result of an artist’s own creative inclination with no prior training. Yet, they do not receive enough support or recognition from the government. In fact, they are often chased by the police and seen as lawbreakers.
The public is more appreciative of our work and sometimes they come and join us, said Hari. They are curious and want to know what is happening.
Recognition for skilled graffiti artists is essential. It is important for Chennai to develop a street art culture like Delhi. It can also be incorporated in college curriculums. Financial assistance can be provided by the government since raw materials are expensive.
Defacing public property is very common in the West. Unfortunately, acts of vandalism are seen in Chennai too. Repeatedly writing one’s names, scribbling random messages and spraying black paint are common sights.
According to Joyston, unless a person has a good design or a moral message that is useful for many others they ought not to deface public property. If one wishes to vandalise, then they must vandalise productively.
As street art in Chennai adorns a new face, there are many things to consider. With a broader public mind set and socially responsible youngsters, the future of street graphics here is definitely gaining momentum.
Here’s a video showing a brief interaction with Professional Graffiti Artist, Joyston Christopher Vas on street art in Chennai and many pictures of street art in Chennai”:
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Art Lab: https://www.facebook.com/artsiddhar
Coloured particles: https://www.facebook.com/coloured.particles?fref=ts