Artists from across India and abroad are painting huge murals around packed habitation. How do the residents of these places feel?

The street art festival, St.ART, which started in Delhi in the middle of January, is claiming dozens of walls in some of the city’s dense urban villages. Some 40 artists from across India and abroad are painting huge murals around packed habitations in Shahpur Jat, Hauz Khas and Khirkee. How has it felt for the residents of these places to host art among them?  

A street artist, who goes by the name Yantr, was one of the first artists in the St.ART festival to start working on a wall — a five-storey face of a building in Shahpur Jat. The wall looms up on you the moment you walk into the village from one of the approaches. Yantr, who has biked across India to paint large murals in cities as far-flung as Guwahati and Pune, chose the wall with care.

The owner of the wall, shopkeeper Narendar Singhal, was explained what was to go up. He was happy that someone was painting his wall for free. He asked some of the same questions that denizens of the village kept asking the festival crew time and again: “Why are you guys doing this? What are you getting out of it?” The answer that it was art for the sake of it, and the artists and their helpers were volunteering this back-breaking labour, didn’t seem to quench their curiosity.

A guessing game started at this and other sites in the village. It’s a set for the Sholay 3D movie, some were heard speculating. It’s the people of the Guinness Book of Records, said others. Advertisement for something, maybe? But as the works took shape, the neighbours became more convinced that their village was being turned into an outdoor gallery.

Yantr began in his idiosyncratic bio-mechanical style. It was to be a splendid drone slithering down the side of the building and staring at you with its Cyclops-like eye. It’s not something you would just walk past.

But Jaswant Singh, a 64-year-old retiree who had built a mandir to sage Valmiki next to Yantr’s wall, wanted everything to be rooted to his bitter world. Singh screamed that Yantr first paint images of gods all around his mandir and only then be allowed to climb his scaffolding. All requests fell on deaf ears. Singh demanded to okay the artwork of the gods. Ruchin Soni, an artist who was to start painting his own wall in another part of the village, was called in to defuse the tension. Soni, who grew up seeing his father paint ‘pichhvai’ drapes for mandirs in Gujarat, chose a scene from Mahabharat. Yantr heaved a sigh of relief.

But consider a scene barely 10 metres from Yantr’s wall. Here Pune-based artist Harshvardhan Kadam was working on his mural of the six horses of Sun. Kadam had to put his scaffold on top of a three-storeyed building that shared a wall with his ‘canvas’. The owner of the wall being painted was happy. His brother, Mahesh Panwar, told this writer that it was looking very good.

Even happier were the neighbours on whose house the arsenal of aluminium rig, ladders, paint buckets and rollers were kept. Murti Devi, mother of five, was happy because her oldest daughter was getting married in three weeks and the house and its neighbourhood were beginning to look really colourful and happy. The family kept going up to keep up a friendly banter.

Here, too, was a request. It came from Murti Devi’s youngest daughter, Kirti, all of seven. Could Kadam please do a Chhota Bheem, her favourite cartoon character, in one corner of the wall?