Meera Mohanty

The Election Commission's ban on graffiti has hit artists hard

Chennai

Loudspeakers, traffic jams, noise ... elections tend to disrupt the rhythm of normal life. But if there is one community that looks forward to elections, it is the artists. `Election season' is a time to cash in.

However, this season has not been all that good. Artist Karunanidhi has three assistants in his workshop at Ashok Nagar, but they are idle. T. Nagar alone has 150 such shops, each employing four to five painters and carpenters, and none of them have any work this election, he says.

"If the authorities implement the ban on wall paintings so strictly, where does that leave the three lakh painters in the State? And what happens to their families," asks J.P. Krishna, president, Tamil Nadu Artist Association.

Letter to EC

On behalf of its constituents, the 25,000-member strong association wrote to the Election Commission on March 15, requesting it to review the ban. A second letter was sent to the State Chief Electoral Officer Naresh Gupta. The artists requested that they be allowed to paint the walls, and the EC could direct the candidates to have them whitewashed after the elections.

In Mr. Krishna's workshop, metres and metres of cloth screen-printed with Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's picture lie bundled on a table, while carpenters ready thin wooden frames for them. Stacks of two-leaved fluorescent green banners are piled up in another corner one of the few orders received this time.

The artists say that the digitisation of film hoardings over the last two years has hit them hard. Elections are now their only season of business.

A four by 10 feet wall painting fetches a painter about Rs. 100 to Rs. 150. Artists and carpenters can, during elections, earn almost twice their normal monthly wages of Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 5,000.

But not this time round. "Even when we have acquired permission from house owners, the corporation does not allow us to paint on the walls," says Mr. Karunanidhi. Wall paintings are the most affordable means of campaigning for ordinary candidates. Pamphlets are thrown away, and posters can always be papered over or torn off.

Mr. Krishna leaves for Brussels in August to complete a mural 500ft by 20ft depicting 50 of Belgium's leading personalities at the capital's bus terminal. But there's not much to cheer about for the average artist.