In the middle of our conversation, street artist Harshvardhan Kadam makes a startling admission about suffering from a disorder. “Yes, I do,” he admits gravely. “It is called ‘Searching for empty walls disorder’.” And there is no known cure for it.
One of street artist Harshvardhan Kadam’s works in Pune
“It is not a nice feeling,” jokes the 29-year-old artist. “When I go travelling, instead of seeing the places, I look for empty spaces and walls,” he adds. The artist, who divides his time between Pune and Mumbai, is one of the many artists at what is touted to be India’s biggest street art festival, St-ART Delhi. Street and graffiti artists from all over the world have converged at the metro city, with an aim to revolutionise the art form in India.
Thanks to his job in production houses, Kadam has always been involved in creating character design and digital paintings. But the street artist in him always yearned to take a concept out of his sketchbook and create it in an open space. “I always wanted to do something new,” he recalls. And he did, in December 2012, with street art. Calling himself a “vagabond”, the artist says that he has his “mobile art studio” — which can fit into a knapsack — with him at all times. “I get invited a lot by production houses and festivals, so when I travel, I look for some interesting spaces which I can make even more interesting with my art,” says Kadam.
Painting in public
St-ART Delhi, which started on January 11, will go on till February 18, with 45 street painters and 25 graffiti artists lending some character to public spaces through their art. Creative director of the festival, Hanif Kureshi, explains that as someone who has been involved with street art for a couple of years now, he felt the need to give the art scene in India a push. He explains that the idea behind the exhibition is to exchange information on street art with global artists, make some nice murals and transform typical urban landscape into a walking art gallery.
One of the murals at the festival is that of a cat playing with a ball of yarn, by Delhi-based painter Anpu. She explains that street art is finally gaining momentum in India. “The street is such an unbiased space,” she explains. “You can explore different things. You can be political, critical or funny in your street art,” adds the artist, who started experimenting with the art form two years ago.
A work in progress at St-ART Delhi festival, by Delhi-based artist Anpu
There are other murals across the city, including south Delhi hotspots such as Hauz Khas village and Shahpur Jat. In the next few days, work will also begin at Tihar jail and Police Colony for which, surprisingly, getting permission to paint was not a problem.
Ironically, it was the locals who needed some cajoling. “There was an old gentleman, a retired gazette officer, who chased us to make a painting of Arjun on a chariot on one of the walls. He wouldn’t allow us to touch the wall otherwise. I had to go to his house and pacify him and actually see to it that he was fine with it,” chuckles Kureshi.
Art for the common man
Perhaps what street artists find the most catchy and addictive about street art is this mingling with the local crowd that the art form allows one to do. Kadam fondly remembers getting invited into several homes in Bandra for cake and beer.
“Street art takes one locality and makes it more lively,” continues Kadam. “Your street art can also become a landmark — if you have painted a red wall, people staying next to the wall will begin to use that as a landmark,” he adds. “It (street art) takes art to the common man and encourages them to engage in conversations about the art,” he elaborates.
One of the best examples of this took place in Benaras during the Kumbh Mela last year. Kadam spotted an interesting space and drew a mural of Hindu gods Shiva and Parvati there. A couple of days later, he was amazed to see that the space was free of litter, trash and miscreants. “It was not intentional. But it was nice to see the kind of impact it had,” he says.
“People ask us why do we do street painting, that too for free,” says Kureshi. “But today, you click a picture of something that you like and share it with someone. That becomes your social currency. But this is not possible with gallery exhibitions, as they target only a limited audience,” he points out.
Kureshi aims to bring the festival to Mumbai in the month of October, after the monsoon. “This festival is a baby step towards changing street art in India,” he adds.
On January 24, the exhibition will screen a documentary about the evolving street art scene in Delhi and around the world. Towards the end of the month, a ‘graffiti jam’ will be organised by graffiti artists. There are also painting, graffiti and stencil workshops for those interested. For information, visit www.st-artdelhi.org