The elephant on the street

Feb 21, 2017, 10:14 IST | Joanna Lobo

Graffiti artist Falko One painting a wall near Mount Mary Church in Bandra. PIC/Pradeep Dhivar
Graffiti artist Falko One painting a wall near Mount Mary Church in Bandra. PIC/Pradeep Dhivar

You might be able to ignore the elephant in the room but if you walk through Dharavi's inner lanes or step outside Mount Mary Church in Bandra, you won't be able to ignore the elephants on the street. There's a blue and yellow one rubbing its trunk against a door frame, a pink one with flowers growing out of its massive hind legs and even a mother and child, rubbing trunks together forming a heart shape. These lumbering giants are the works of Falko One, street artist and graffiti icon from South Africa.

Falko's elephants can be found at Dharavi (in pic)
Falko's elephants can be found at Dharavi (in pic)

Falko was in the city last week, painting the walls of Dharavi, Chapel Road and Mount Mary Road in Bandra, and a pillar at NIFT, Kharghar. He was here because of an energy drinks company, who have recorded his work and will be releasing a video of it online.

The artist, who has been practicing graffiti for 28 years, has gained popularity recently for painting life-size, multi-coloured elephants. "I started painting elephants about five years back. I like elephants. They're big and powerful. And there's a difference between Asian and African elephants — the African ones are the real kings of the wild but, unlike in Asia, they don't have any spiritual meaning," he says. We chat with him after he has finished painting a wall, with not one, but a herd of elephants. "Besides, who doesn't like them? They are so gentle and wonderful." He hastens to point out that he paints chickens and gorillas too.

Chapel Road and at NIFT, Kharghar. PIC courtesy/Ali Bharmal
Chapel Road and at NIFT, Kharghar. PIC courtesy/Ali Bharmal

Although he has painted graffiti across the world, his elephants don't change and aren't localised. "When I first started I wanted to make it diverse, to paint an animal but adding some elements from the country I am in. Then I realised it was too difficult. I had to do 50 artworks in two or three pieces, and coming up with something new each time was just difficult."

There was once a time when Falko used to sign off his name on his artwork because he wanted to become famous, and get girls to know him. "And I did and I was happy for a long time. Then I met my wife and no longer needed to," he laughs.

Today, armed with a spray can, he uses his work to highlight issues such as gender rights, racism, environmental concerns, and creating awareness about sustainable art. His Once Upon a Town project had him set off across Africa, in 2015 with the purpose of using his art to change locals' perception and value of their homes and surroundings and adding some cheer to the area. Any plans on bringing the project out of Africa? "We want to focus on Africa first. For now, my next stop is Senegal where I will be painting walls in small towns," he says.

Falko chooses small towns for his work, because he feels they need art the most. He is cautious about calling his work a social tool for change. "Art does not cause an immediate or tangible change.

Art cannot feed people. But, it is a seed that you plant and hopefully, someone, somewhere takes away something valuable from it," he says.

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