Art

Six more walls in Chennai’s Kannagi Nagar will sport new murals

One of the completed murals by artists Greta von Richthofen and Aashti Miller

One of the completed murals by artists Greta von Richthofen and Aashti Miller | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Some may call it surrealist: while serenity washes over a face sporting a nose ring, an explosion of feathers, punctuated by houses in blue, green, yellow, orange and pink fills the facade. Indentations in the form of windows, doors and the occasional crack are the negative spaces of this concrete canvas.

Part of this face today is masked by clothes hung out to dry, as children of the locality play a game of tag, snapping us back to the reality of one of the largest resettlement areas in Tamil Nadu — Kannagi Nagar. Here, as daily life unfolds, yet another wall stands in the background narrating a story through colour. 

Kannagi Nagar and its people are now used to the drill. In 2019, before the pandemic struck, St+art India saw the identical apartment buildings as empty canvases. With People and Environment as the theme, artists from across the country and abroad adorned 16 facades in the locality, making it India’s fifth Art District.

From Australian artist Bronte Naylor to Chennai’s own A-Kill and Delhi-based Osheen Siva among others, they captured Kannagi Nagar and the larger Tamil culture in bits and pieces. The initiative supported by Greater Chennai Corporation, Asian Paints and Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board also aided workshops for the community, culminating in a launch programme where beatboxers, hip hop dancers and gaana singers drew crowds to this otherwise neglected area. 

A closer look at the mural

A closer look at the mural | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Hues of hope

Cut to March 2022, six more walls have been draped in colour as the third edition begins. While the theme remains the same, a new roster of seven national and international artists will take over the walls, all through the month of March.

“The fact that Kannagi is so cut off from the centre of the city, but also is confined somehow in a purely urban level, makes the community bind together stronger. And so, such cultural interventions are more accepted,” says Guilia Ambrogi, co-founder and curator of St+art India. She adds, “The murals have been very contextual right from the beginning, to its environment. How do we make that sustainable and valuable to everyone is the question we are asking ourselves.”

While art workshops have been done in the past, over the course of their work, the team has identified how important dance and music is to the community. Now besides art, workshops pertaining to performance will also be held. Another key focus is on teaching the children about consent.

In an attempt to capture pandemic travel, through metaphors and motifs that represent local flora and fauna, Greta von Richthofen from Germany and Aashti Miller from India have done a collaborative mural in Lodhi Art District, Delhi, and Kannagi Nagar. The wall art, which connects across cities through overlapping ideas and motifs, is part of the #GraphicTravelogues initiative done in collaboration with Goethe-Institut. 

Another completed mural by Datta Raj

Another completed mural by Datta Raj | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Explaining how they have used the body as a link, Aashti says, “In Chennai we have depicted the head, out of which ideas flow and in both murals we have incorporated a lot of local and German elements. For instance, the flowers talk about floral trade specific to the city.” In Delhi, a pencil in hand characterises the mural. Birds and trees that embody Germany’s biodiversity also make an appearance. Speaking of the edition, Aashti continues, “The beauty of the Chennai murals is that a lot of the artists take inspiration from the ‘here and now’. It is a very common practice, and creatively stimulating.”  The concept behind this wall also touches upon “travelling in one’s own mind.” 

While most of the ideation happened virtually, Greta says, “It was a very fluid and interesting process for us. Both of us have extremely different styles and aesthetics and that worked out.” 

Another wall in-the-works is sprinkled with what may seem like chat stickers, at the first glance. Go closer to realise that these emoticons are characters from the locality itself. “Among the emoticons, you can find people from Kannagi: while plucking flowers, collecting water…This mural localised such a global way of communication which especially rose in importance during the pandemic,” says Guilia. Afzan Pirzade, Lekha Shastri, Mohd Intiyaz, Chifumi from Cambodia and Datta Raj are the other artists at work.

For artists and curators alike, Kannagi Nagar’s people form the core of their work. Guilia reassures, “We are trying to act on multiple levels towards a larger goal. We don’t want to create just a spectacle, but also see tangible effects by working with the community.”   


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Printable version | Jun 1, 2022 7:55:29 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/chennais-kannagi-nagar-sports-six-new-murals/article65230196.ece