'He could have been the fifth bodyguard'
Tyler Street Art, Mumbai's Banksy, takes to a Skype call to explain the confrontation with actor Aparshakti Khurana over his pose against the Girl With Security's graffiti
I am sure journalists who spoke to Veerappan on the phone, not knowing where he was, found it thrilling," says Tyler, famous in Mumbai as anonymous graffiti artist Tyler Street Art. It's a Skype call on a rainy morning, and this writer is expressing slight discomfort over having to speak to a person whose identity she isn't aware of.
We ask if he is comparing himself to the dreaded sandalwood dacoit who made forests in South India his home. Tyler laughs and says "no, no".
But, Tyler isn't his real name. The street artist, known as Mumbai's Banksy, says he is a 30-something, born and brought up in the city. "When I was younger, around eight years ago, I used to wonder why Mumbai is known as the 'City of Dreams', and why people from across the country come here. But it's because of the freedom we get here, and how forward thinking we are. Yet, at one point, I started feeling disillusioned. Anger and frustration were building up over various issues like population and lawlessness, and I decided to put it out there creatively, so something meaningful comes out of it."
That decision led him to become a pioneer of sorts for Mumbai's street art scene starting 2011, noticeably in the Andheri West/Lokhandwala area (when we suggest he stays around there, he just chuckles). The artist, who has no formal training and says his fingers tremble when he tries to sketch, makes art digitally, and then makes stencils,which he uses to spray paint on walls around the city. Some recognisable works include a man and woman hugging each other with CCTV cameras where heads ought to be, kids playing with a crate that says 'Enjoy Capitalism', and a politician with a shadow of a demon. It's clear that, much like Banksy, he enjoys making political and social statements.
Last week, he took on actor Aparshakti Khurana after the actor posed in front of a Tyler work—a school going girl, surrounded by suited bodyguards—that came, says the artist, from several instances of young girls being raped. "The men are supposed to be her security guards, as any child should be protected. It's simple messaging." Khurana stood in the middle, hiding the girl behind him, for a photograph for a lifestyle feature for MensXP Hindi.
A picture of Aparshakti Khurana standing in the middle of the art work, used for a web portal campaign. Pic /Instagram
When Tyler's fans pointed this out on Khurana's Instagram page, the actor apologised to Tyler and agreed to give credit to the artist. But the artist, who has made over 200 graffiti pieces around the city, says Khurana's image changes the meaning of his art. "It's because he is a hero, he wanted to be in the limelight. This art is for the commoner, it belongs to the city. It's not for fancy photo shoots. It's me making a statement free of cost." We contacted Khurana for a comment, but we didn't hear back till this edition went to print.
But how does an anonymous artist ask for copyright rights?
"If I was in this to make money, then I wouldn't have been anonymous," he says. He then tells us of another time—when he painted his quote "Never forget the world is yours" with the footnote "… terms and conditions apply"—on a wall in Bandra. "Then I saw that a US-based company was using it on mugs, and tees. So I messaged them saying, how cool it was, and I was the creator, and if they could give me credit and some share of profits. They just apologised and, instead of doing that, pulled down the merchandise," he laughs. When it comes to the issue at hand with Khurana, Tyler says he knows the power of Bollywood, especially, as he points out he has some 4k+ followers compared to the half a million that Khurana has. "I am okay about it, I don't feel bad. I just want to put what happened out there. Also, if my signature is next to it, then it means I am claiming it. My point is, the art may belong to me, but it's for the city, not celebrities. If someone is hurt by it, and paints over it, sure, do that. But if you try and manipulate it, then my fans get upset. They were the ones who went and commented on Aparshakti's profile, and got him to take notice. He would have won hearts if he had posed as the fifth bodyguard instead of what he did."
For now, he is happy doing what he is doing, which is taking an artistic approach to discussing issues that matter to the country. "I can make someone look like a hero, or an a*&^%le on a wall, and a wall, is there forever. But I want to use my power diligently." Finally, when it comes to comparisons he faces over being called Bombay's Banksy, he says he is truly overwhelmed. "And nervous. Banksy has been at the forefront of many movements. I am obviously inspired by him, but as Banksy says himself, there are more of us out there."
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