At Mumbai’s Gallery XXL, post-graffiti and urban contemporary art are in the limelight

Gallery XXL’s inaugural show, Outsiders, covers 50 years of the global street art movement through the works of 24 artists

May 12, 2023 11:38 pm | Updated 11:38 pm IST

Aravani Art Project, Deepa in Colaba I, 2023, Acrylic, cloth and embroidery on canvas, 48 x 24 inches 

Aravani Art Project, Deepa in Colaba I, 2023, Acrylic, cloth and embroidery on canvas, 48 x 24 inches  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In February this year, the India Art Fair in New Delhi showcased a couple of ‘outsiders’ at Bikaner House. Featuring artworks by phenomenal artists including Anpu Varkey, Aravani Art Project, Guesswho, Fintan Magee, and Papi Nevla among others, the show titled ‘Outsiders’ highlighted post graffiti art in a gallery for the first time.

The preview show, in fact, was a teaser for what it has shaped into now — the all-new Mumbai-based Gallery XXL that focusses on showcasing the best of post-graffiti and urban contemporary art from India and abroad. The gallery is a result of the coming together of two aspects of art — the street art experience brought in by the co-founders of St+Art India Foundation and the commercial aspect of art represented by Gallery Director and CEO Joe Cyril, who was part of the first two editions of the Kochi Biennale and also headed business development for Saffron Art before he came on board for this ambitious project.

 A snapshot of Gallery XXL

A snapshot of Gallery XXL | Photo Credit: Ashish Chandra

The gallery’s name denotes going beyond and as Joe says, “We are trying to acknowledge the scale and visuals of street art and how provocative and hard to miss it can be.” Elaborating on their reasons for coming up with a space that is touted to be India’s first gallery representing urban contemporary and post-graffiti art, Joe begins by explaining how the art movement started in different parts of New York and Europe sometime in the ‘70s. “In New York, it came out in the form of subway art, and later, graffiti art took to the streets where the boundaries were more blurred. In Europe, artists came out of nowhere out of places that were raw and unseen in post-industrial cities.”

Taking what is traditionally considered public art to the confines of a gallery space was an organic process, he says. “As a gallery, we wanted to take this initiative because we felt that in India, unlike the rest of the world, the urban contemporary art movement needed a bit of institutional support.”

Set against the backdrop of a heritage building, Gallery XXL’s inaugural show titled Outsiders, curated by Amitabh Kumar, covers 50 years of the global street art movement through the works of 24 Indian and international artists. Some of the participating artists include Japanese-American artist AIKO, anonymous Indian street artists Daku and Guesswho, mixed media artist Filthy Luker along with artist collectives Aravani Art Project and Trespassers, and others, many of whom are showing their works in a gallery in India for the very first time. Whilst the oldest person showcasing at the exhibition is 80-years-old, the youngest is in their early 20s, the curator informs us.

Artworks at Gallery XXL

Artworks at Gallery XXL | Photo Credit: Ashish Chandra

The curation process began in October last year, says Amitabh, adding that it soon became clear that “humanising the figure of the artist was crucial in laying the grounds of this movement”. As a part of the process, they started interviewing the artists and began transcribing and editing the interviews. “In that sense, it developed into two ideas intertwined with each other. One, was the display of artworks through a specific register of symbols, narratives, and impact. The second was the curation of knowledge bodies around the artists and their wider practices — this took the shape of text-based artworks, audio booths, and photomontage displays. Linking the two was the archive room which covered a 50-year-old grand narrative that begins in the street of 70’s New York and ends in the Kalanjee House in Colaba,” he adds.

Unlike the traditional gallery space, Gallery XXL hopes to take its art and artists to different sites and locations. “We plan to take our shows internationally to different places and do a couple of site-specific shows. However, we will be based out of the Colaba art district for our first few shows,” says Joe, adding that the art and character of the building come together organically through the curation. “One really doesn’t really define the other — both come with their own sense of character and a beautiful kind of interplay or conversation that happens between them which just fits,” he signs off.

Outsiders is on at The Kalanjee Project, Colaba, Mumbai, until May 21

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