Using shipping containers as canvas at New Delhi's Street Art Festival. (Photo: Bismillah Geelani)

Using shipping containers as canvas at New Delhi's Street Art Festival. (Photo: Bismillah Geelani)

India’s capital New Delhi is playing host to an Urban Street Art Festival where local and international street artists have come together with a mission to transform the city’s landscape. 

With a view to making art accessible to everyone the organizers are using Delhi’s footpaths and walls as a platform for the artistic expression. 

Bismillah Geelani spent time with the artists at work and has this report.

The Inland Container Depot on the outskirts of Delhi is Asia’s largest dry port.

Usually buzzing with the honks and squeals of moving vehicles, the surroundings these days are much calmer. 

The port has been turned into a venue for the Delhi Street Art Festival and dozens of artists are at work amid a backdrop of live music and dance performances

Akshat Naureyal is co-founder of the Start India Foundation, the group organizing the festival.

“Ours is a not-for-profit group and through these festivals we are trying to take art works out of the conventional galleries and enclosed spaces to make it available to a wider audience,” says Naureyal, “In India enjoying art works is thought to be a prerogative of the elite or people from the upper middle class, what we are trying to do is to democratize art and make it accessible to everyone.”

This is the fourth edition of the street Art Festival and each time the organizers get creative.

This year they are using shipping containers as the canvas, an idea that has struck an emotional chord with both local and foreign artists.

French artist Sowat sees it as a homecoming of street art.

“Graffiti was born on trains,” he says, “It was always the idea of having roaming museums; painting your work somewhere and having it travel throughout the city or throughout the country…That’s why I think it’s even bigger than street art because those containers are going to travel through the country and they are not going to be seen only by people in the urban spaces. I hope they are going to be seen by people who live in the countryside as well.”

The visitors too are equally excited seeing the containers with beautiful artworks.

Abhilash Khandekar is a senior journalist. He covers art for one of India’s leading newspapers.

“Delhi being what it is, has been a centre of international art with lots of museums and art galleries but this is something really very good, containers being used as art walls is really new and different,” says Khandekar, “This is a wonderful exposure for me. I’m amazed and very happy to be here.” 

Some of the artworks that stand out include a massive mural of an astronaut staring into space, an Indian goddess riding a dragon, and a wall painted with the word “Breathe” using a special black ink made from particular matter and carbon, emphasizing the urgent need for clean air.

Local artist Harsh Raman has used a vibrant pallet of colors to create a mural of what he describes as the god of street art.

“In India, there is a god for everything, but there’s no god for street art,” he says, “So I thought that it would be interesting to explore the idea of creating some kind of a deity for street art and creating some kind of a moveable shrine.”

But Gaia, a street artist and muralist from the United States is more concerned with global warming.

“What you have here is the Alto Maruti Suzuki car in REPE and they are superimposed over half of a gigantic globe and then you have the portrait of a man called Malcom McLean,” he explains, “And he is credited with innovating the container and bringing it to a level where it could in fact be standardized and utilized by all sorts of shipping companies beyond sea land.”

By including one of India’s top selling cars in his painting, Gaia is trying to bring attention to the relationship between urban living and global warming.

“So what I’m saying is that simply traditional lifestyles are being urbanized all over the world, we are seeing the advent of [the] mega city and so as you have this sort of pooling of labor from the countryside into the city,” he says.

“And the exploitation of the traditional lifestyle that creates a tendency, or a need, or a desire, to also have the other comforts and conveniences, access to medication, access to clean water but of course also access to cars,” he continues, “your own vehicle and your own special autonomy.”

Among other works, a portrait of the late Iranian Poet and activist Farough Farukhzad by Iranian artist Nafir signifies the importance of the struggle for women’s rights in conservative societies.

As part of the festival, the organizers have joined hands with the local government to convert a residential area in Delhi into what is being called the country’s first art district. 

Magnificent wall murals with local and international artists are transforming Delhi’s Lodhi colony, an area of historical and architectural significance, into an open-air art gallery.  


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