Thursday, August 31, 2017

Kolkata Kaleidoscope- Kolkata Street Art Festival

Anecdote 1: May 2006
Jadavpur University, Calcutta
“I hope those pamphlets are ready?”- Let me confess, I was extremely nervous. It was perhaps one of our earliest attempts at creating something extraordinary, we had very few members in the team but there was no shortage in talent.
“The printing press takes its own sweet time, mate”- Swaroop uttered- “We have reminded them almost thrice today, still no response.” This meant disaster.
“The event is just a couple of days away my friend!!”- I shouted frantically- “If we do not get the posters and pamphlets on time, how do we spread the word in such a short period?”
“WAIT! Let’s no panic. I have a better plan.”- Swaroop’s resounding assurance took us by surprise- “We have such talented artists in our team, why don’t we start painting on the walls? Without wasting resources, we can spread the word effectively.” Believe me, at that moment of crisis, these words were like gold dust. The canvas was rugged, approvals staggered, resources limited, but at the end of the day, the intent was right. A team of 5 students transformed one filthy, overlooked corner of the campus into their cherished canvas.

Anecdote 2: May 2016
Lodhi Art District, New Delhi
“Sir, it’s been more than 6 hours. When will you be done?” – The grumpy auto-driver screeched impatiently.
That broke my trance. I quickly checked my watch and realized that it was already 7 PM; Delhi, unlike Calcutta, experiences extended hours of sunshine and the visibility was decent. But then, that was merely the reason. Honestly speaking, I was absolutely blown-away by the fact that an entire colony has been transformed into a vivid gallery, an exhibition of artistry, adroitness and unmatched skill. Something very similar to what we had envisaged almost a decade ago; it was almost like a walk down memory lane…those hours spent in conceptualizing, rather dreaming of a day when our city would be sheathed in colors of hope.

Walk down memory lane: Self portrait at the Lodhi Art District
An unforgettable experience
I stood for almost an hour in-front of the gigantic-bird-etched-murals; it was magical indeed. It was as if I was transported to those child-hood days, the yearning of being flown “around the world in eighty days” by this mighty bird. They have attached a technical terminology in line with this initiative called “city beautification”, but if you ask me, a drive as altruistic as this, could have multiple positive implications:
  • Inspiring creativity: Since the seeds of creativity are inbred right from the child-hood, a colony full of colorful wall-art and murals can inspire the younger generation. Not only would this motivate them to try out newer forms of art at home but inculcate the awareness that walls are not supposed to be littered.
  • Photographers’ paradise: Being a passionate photo enthusiast, I do realize the necessity of interesting backdrops that can, in effect, make or break a photograph. And the statement is genre-agnostic, a colorful, vibrant and meaningful back-drop is alluring for both fashion as well as street photographers.
  • Promotes underground artists: A properly outlined drive can actually create a lot of buzz across the various layers of the society and it can, in effect, bring the supremely talented underground artists out of their closet. I believe, every city has a huge pool of such ingenious “beings” who are gifted with the flair of transforming a Nation with their unique “mode of expression”, if they get the right platform. As a matter of fact, St+Art India who have been instrumental in “revving up” the Lodhi Colony, has involved a number of such artists. At the end of the day, a consortium of “skill” makes a huge impact.
  • Uplifts the face of your city:  Imagine hundreds of people clicking selfies with the wall in the backdrop and sharing on social media every day, imagine popular media channels covering such initiatives regularly, imagine the impact your Instagram post uploaded with popular hashtags like #graffiti or #wall art- the reach is uninhibited, we call it the “multiplier” effect. This, in effect, glorifies your own city and establishes the fact that it is indeed one of the artistic hubs of the country. The fact that these art-works represent the true essence of the city, makes them all the more magnetic.
  • Boosts the Tourism sector: I was recently having an animated conversation with one of my Instagram followers who resides in Belgium and loves documenting street art from across the globe. And since Calcutta, of late, has made a sparkling entry into the wall-art scene, she was extremely inquisitive about the kind of initiatives that are taken by the artists in collaboration with popular brands of the city. Mid-way through this conversation, I realized that the “City beautification” drive could actually lead to a boost in the tourism sector and of course, enhance footfall in those particular “hotspots”. The “quirk-factor” coupled with depiction of traditional art forms is the key growth driver.
In this very context, let me take this opportunity to congratulate Berger Paints India for launching an absolutely phenomenal initiative “Kolkata Street Art Festival” (#KSAF) that not only ticks the 5 key pointers, but goes beyond that and emphasizes on the principle of “sustainable art”. Honestly speaking, purely from a photographer’s point of view, I was elated to receive an invitation from Berger Paints for a day-long-bloggers-city-tour because that not only gave me an opportunity to document some unique frames, but took me back to those nostalgic college days. As a part of this path-breaking initiative, Berger Paints intends to paint 10 walls, 3 metro stations and 2 trams in the first phase and extend the coverage there-after based on the response they get from the citizens; and we would love it if they cover major parts of North Calcutta as well. The best part is, the intention is to carry this “drive” to the other cities as well; that opens up the vision of this entire campaign for me.

Kolkata Street Art Festival: The wonderful wall-art right outside the iconic Eden Gardens
Kolkata Street Art Festival: The wonderful wall-art right outside the iconic Eden Gardens
Absolutely indebted to Prof. Jogen Chowdhury, an eminent artist & Member of Parliament who has mentored this program and the team of 20 fantastic artists led by senior artist Mr Barun Saha and Mr Rintu Roy who have embarked on a journey that would probably change the face of Calcutta on the global landscape. Super thanks to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, concerned police stations and local clubs who extended their whole-hearted cooperation for successful execution of the project so far; it re-establishes that fact that a consorted effort leads to unbelievable results. We sincerely hope that with a joint pledge of preserving these art-works, we will be in a position to call it an “effort that is going to stay”, sustainable effort so to say.

Kolkata Street Art Festival: The wall-art near Rabindra Sadan Metro Station, such intricate details
Kolkata Street Art Festival: The wall-art near Rabindra Sadan Metro Station, such intricate details
Kolkata Street Art Festival: There are two Owls in the picture ;)
This combined with the fact that the artists braved unfavorable weather conditions and created an epiphany within a month’s time ratifies that a combination of skill, intent and the right choice of resources (application of the Berger Paints Weather coat to ward off the inherent moisture content) can do the impossible. On a number of occasions, the wall had to be suitably “treated” with plaster and putty before application of the paint.

Anecdote 3: August 2017
Gariahat Tram Depot:
As I’m all set to strike a signature pose right beneath the “stair-case of enlightenment”, I reckon, I am freezing a moment of a lifetime; I can show this photograph to my grand-children saying that- “I was alive when the first organized Street-art drive was launched in Calcutta”.
Yes my friend, Calcutta is climbing up the stairs real fast and this initiative by Berger Paints is likely propel the cause.

Kolkata Street Art Festival: Posing outside Gariahat Tram Depot
Kolkata Street Art Festival: Wall art outside the Gariahat Tram DepotWork in progress
My Pick of KSAF:
Having worked with a talented bunch of artists for a couple of recent projects, I know the kind of effort and energy it takes to create wonderful art-work on rugged walls. Hence, the murals located at Topsia have drawn my significant attention primarily because of the substantially low height of the “canvas”; it takes hell of an effort to sit in that posture and execute such intricate work within a limited time period. The subject of wall-art in this area is primarily focused towards drawing the attention of school-going children owing to the presence of a number of educational institutes in the locality. Hence, it is safe enough to infer that “relevance” and “congruence” are two major pillars of this bench-marking initiative.

Kolkata Street Art Festival: Juxtaposition, a hint of street photography while shooting at Topsia
Kolkata Street Art Festival: The wall-art near Topsia is quite colorful and engaging at the same time
Kolkata Street Art Festival: The wall-art near Topsia is quite colorful and engaging at the same time
Kolkata Street Art Festival: The wall-art near Topsia is quite colorful and engaging at the same time
We hope to see more of such wall-art spread across the rest of the city in the near future; perhaps a “graffiti smash” involving multiple city-artists to create an interesting composite wall-art is also on the cards. :)
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