Early this year, I stumbled upon Instagram photos of some very striking wall murals in Delhi’s Lodhi Colony, and as I traced their origins, I learnt that they were part of a focused effort by an organization called St+Art India, a non-profit that aims to bring the art experience outside of a traditional gallery, into public spaces, thereby making it accessible to all.
The Lodhi Art District, as it’s now getting popularly known, is their largest project so far. Outside of Delhi, the foundation has also beautified spaces in Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore, with Chennai coming up next.
When St+Art announced the walking tours for Delhi, I immediately signed up for a slot this October. The weather gets better and this would be a perfectly fine reason to walk around one of the most scenic parts of Delhi, with tons of art around. This is a paid tour, but of course you don’t really need to pay since this is an “open air museum”. I just thought it would be more fun in knowing the stories behind the murals and the artists and meeting new people (which will cost you Rs. 700 per person).
The tours are running twice a month, every second and fourth Saturday from October 2019 till March 2020 and tickets are available on Insider.in. Besides Delhi, there are guided tours in Mumbai and Hyderabad as well.
I landed at the meeting point, Gate No.3 of the India Habitat Centre. We were a bunch of about 20 people – an interesting mix of travellers, expats and locals. Some people came in small groups but mostly a lot of solos. Priyanka, a St+Art employee, led the pack as our guide for the day.
The tour stretches over 2.5 hours. It is a very casual walk through the district and you end up covering about 25-30 murals. There is a lot of background sharing and stories about the artwork, the artist, their thought process and other fun anecdotes. And of course, enough time for everyone to take tons of pictures.
The walk itself is great, Lodhi colony is very green, wide roads, pavements and no traffic on the inside lanes. It was still quite hot on the day of our tour(October mid), so a hat and water will be good to carry, but December-March will be perfect weather for this. There is a short 10 min chai and samosa break mid-way, at a local snack corner. Overall, this is a very easy walk and suitable for anyone who is comfortable being on their feet for two to three hours.
As we walked through the leafy lanes, I chatted with Priyanka to understand how St+Art is bringing this new concept to Indian cities, of beautifying public spaces through art. I learnt that the foundations works extensively with global and local artists (though the local artist representation is much thinner), to match them to the correct project and support them in fulfilling their creative vision. A lot of work also happens with residents and local municipalities and governments for access and permissions. These are the most time consuming but necessary. Funding is largely through their work with embassies of the country of artist. They have also been able to rope in as sponsor, one of the largest paint manufacturers in the country.
The murals are more than aesthetics and colour, and often depict messages about the city, society, people, culture and environment. It must be tricky to decide the message and if it actually resonates with its surroundings, I asked Priyanka. She explained that St+Art did a lot of pre-production work with the artists which involved briefings and alignment on what they would like to showcase, while ensuring that their creative vision remains intact. For the Lodhi project, while many artists stuck to their initial vision, some drew inspiration from India once they arrived, from Delhi and the Lodhi neighbourhood and ended up evolving their initial idea, to reflect strong elements of Indian culture and life. It’s not surprising thus, to come across a mural of scenes from a Delhi neighbourhood, of clothes drying on the terrace, street vendors, sweet shops, roadside barbers, and simple everyday life scenes, drawn by an international artist.
Sharing a few of my favourite murals and the thought behind them. This is a super fun way to see a part of Delhi, through a lens of art and creativity!
Singaporean artist Yip Yew Chong showcases scenes of daily life in Lodhi – a sweet shop owner, a cow sunning on the road, carpets drying on the terrace, a tea stall, a roadside barber. Unmissable scenes typical of any locality in Delhi.
Gond Artist Rakesh Kumar Memrot painted this majestic elephant, from whose’s tusks, branches and leaves flow on both sides of the wall. The detailing of the elephant, the leaves and birds is extremely fine and the impact is stunning.
The artist goes by the name of Daku(means “thief”) and his installation is called Time Changes Everything – metal cut outs that cast shadows of words such as Hope, Ambition, Desire, Life on a blank white wall. Bright daylight and noon sun are both necessary to see this installation. Pigeons have now screwed up the words and some alphabets are missing but there are no specific plans to restore it, said the St+Art team.
This piece didn’t look like much till Priyanka asked us to see it through our phone camera. “The Origin of the World” by Borondo depicts life and the many passages one needs to cross between birth and death. He was inspired by the maternity hospital that faces this wall. A boat just beneath the window is the carrier from one side to the other.
This wall called “Saath Saath” was painted together with the residents of Lodhi. Artist Dattaraj Naik created the design and the residents shared words or phrases on what their neighbourhood means to them. These words have been incorporated throughout the wall and if you see the wall from a distance, the two words, Saath Saath emerge through the explosion of color and design.