This article was carried by Travel3Sixty˚ (in-flight magazine of Air Asia) in their January 2018 issue.

For years, several walls in many of our cities have served as unconventional yet magnificent canvasses for street artists. These walls document an entire generation’s thoughts and ideas, thus transcending from mere brick and mortar to a medium of creative expression. In New Delhi, this trend only recently gained traction. Take a look at how the walls of the national capital speak volumes about what our youth thinks and feels. They consider the city is their canvas!

Graphic glimpses of landmark monuments of Delhi e.g. Jantar Mantar, Qutub Minar, India Gate and Lotus Temple - The City Is Their Canvas
These street artists have let loose their magic even inside Tihar Jail.

The City Is Their Canvas

I have grown up looking at New Delhi’s walls plastered with advertisements, defiled by public urination and other deplorable acts, the victims of generations of vandalism and neglect. It wasn’t until 2014 that I started seeing the beautifully painted walls of a few colonies in South Delhi. To my surprise, the walls, which were earlier marred with dirt and filth, were all new and colourful. They looked more like canvasses, depicting the creativity of the city’s new artists.

Colourful birds in nature's backdrop - The City Is Their Canvas
This mural of colourful birds adorns one of the quadrangles in Lodhi Colony.

This wave of change was a movement instigated by the many street artists and non-profit organisations blooming in the national capital. My initial tryst was with the St+Art India Foundation, a non-profit organisation working towards changing the landscape of New Delhi. It was a small start made by a group of young, like-minded dreamers — Arjun Bahl (New Delhi), Akshat Nauriyal (Uttaranchal), Giulia Ambrogi (Italy), Thanish Thomas (Kerala) and Hanif Kureshi (Gujarat). They painted the neglected walls of the DDA apartments in Shahpur Jat, a large colony near the Asian Games Village in South Delhi. This initiative was undertaken by these art enthusiasts to make the streets come alive. It also collectively encouraged everyone to freely express their creativity.

Chifumi Gram's Padma, inspired by Khmer Patterns - The City Is Their Canvas
Padma, a mural by Chifumi Gram from Cambodia

“Back in those days, Shahpur Jat was an urban village that was rapidly changing. Its proximity to high-class colonies in South Delhi led to the opening of posh boutiques and cafés. So it provided us with an interesting space for an art intervention since we wanted to work in a high-density area which was also navigable by foot,” says Arjun Bahl, co-founder of St+Art, and also one of the participants involved in the Shahpur Jat project.

A village boy cheerfully looks up - The City Is Their Canvas
‘Village Boy’ – one of the first works by St+Art in Shahpur Jat

An Art Revolution Kicks Off

This kick-started a new revolution! News about the Shahpur Jat street art transformation spread like wildfire. The best thing about this movement was that it provided a new canvas to budding talents in this arena. Street art soon became de rigueur in many South Delhi circles. Another group that soon came into the limelight was Delhi Street Art, founded by Yogesh Saini, an avid travel and nature photographer, blogger and digital artist. This group was responsible for giving all the garbage bins of Lodhi Gardens (in New Delhi) an artistic twist. Some of their notable contributions in this segment can be seen at Nehru Place in South Delhi and Janak Puri in West Delhi.

Unlike the old days, when scribbling on the walls was considered as a punishable offence, these initiatives now, ironically, are backed by government agencies like the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and Central Public Works Department (CPWD).

Astronaut and a colourful meteorite by Nevercrew - a metaphor for someone who can see things from a different perspective - The City Is Their Canvas
Astronaut and a colourful meteorite by Nevercrew – a metaphor for someone who can see things from a different perspective

Platform for the like-minded

Just after the inception of this trend in the national capital, a two-month long street art festival was observed in the city in 2015. It brought together independent streets artists on the same platform. This particular festival was helmed by St+Art and the NDMC. Young talent flew in from as far away as Australia, the Netherlands, the United States, Singapore, Cambodia, Iran, Mexico and Japan to add colour to the washed-out walls of New Delhi.

Talking about the motivation behind starting this organisation, Hanif says, “We wanted to make art popular, mainstream and accessible to the common man. During the festival, each artist had a different agenda — personal pleasure, popularity, or a social cause.”

Whatever may be the inspiration, the end results left everyone impressed.

A monochrome rendition of a hardworking entrepreneurial lady involved in work-family life balance - The City Is Their Canvas
‘Lavanya’ by Hendrik Beikirch of Germany

In search of art

I was in total awe of the city’s artistic makeover! I recently walked around the quadrangles of Lodhi Colony soaking in the art. Perchance, a mural depicting Rani Laxmi Bai in the battlefield with her son on her back caught my eye. Unsuspectingly, I presumed that it would’ve been painted by an artist of Indian origin. To my surprise, it was created by Lady Aiko, a Japanese artist based in New York City!

Let alone the residential blocks, even the metro stations were not left behind. The Delhi Metro, a lifeline for the city dwellers, is almost a walk-in art gallery. The transit walls of Govind Puri Metro Station in South Delhi or Arjan Garh Metro Station on the Mehrauli- Gurugram highway boast of beautiful murals of nature. Surrounded by greenery, the Arjan Garh Metro Station is the entry point to New Delhi. But as you move ahead, the scenario changes drastically. And this is what prompted Singaporean artists SK Lo and Soph O to transform this metro station. The colourful drawings of kingfisher and mynah birds, native to both India and Singapore, juxtapose nature on this urban landscape. According to the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, the project is aimed at promoting art and culture in the country.

Colourful drawings of kingfisher and mynah birds juxtapose nature on this urban landscape - The City Is Their Canvas
Art Stations Project at Arjan Garh Station by Sam Lo and Soph Oh

When I started exploring more about the artists for a photo excavation, I came across a renowned artist named Daku. One of India’s most well-known graffiti artists, Daku has to his credit several beautiful murals spread across the city. His street art ranges from a mural of a chai walla in Old Delhi to a posh Audi Q7 in South Delhi.

A new look

As fancy as all this looks, it is certainly not an easy task to seek permission for painting the streets. One of the artists told me how he had to run after various government authorities for permissions to paint the facades of government buildings. So, next time you cross one of these beautifully decked up walls, do take a moment to appreciate and comprehend the ideas and notions of these talented individuals intent on changing the face of the nation, one wall at a time.

See the 8-page published article in the slideshow below:

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A colourful bird with a sharp beak and well-defined hot pink plumage - The City Is Their Canvas. #Delhi #StreetArt #SouthDelhi #Murals #WallPainting #CanvasA colourful bird flying over the backdrop of lush-green palm leaves - The City Is Their Canvas. #Delhi #StreetArt #SouthDelhi #Murals #WallPainting #Canvas

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