A community in Marol, together with a graffiti collective, are hosting a street art festival, Ladies First (all the contributing artists are women), which will cover over 10,000 square feet of walls in the area they call Marol Arts Village.
Suresh Nair, secretary of the Military Road Residents Welfare Association (MRRWA), a neighbourhood body, says that after seeing eye-catching wall art in low-income areas, he got in touch with the collective behind it. “We thought we could do an art festival in Marol,” he says. MRRWA covers over 80 housing societies; was it difficult to get the residents to agree, especially in such a large locality? “It was absolutely unanimous. We were categorical that it would not be any religious or political message. It would be purely art, and if at all there was a message it would be civic and social.” He notes that officialdom has been helpful. “Our ward officer and the police are extremely supportive of the activity we do. Wicked Broz are taking care of the art and we are playing a support role.”
Wicked Broz is the graffiti collective steering the show. Omkar Dharshwar, a member, grew up in Marol, but it was only when he returned after four years in college that he really began exploring it. “In the last three years I happened to meet some people and found out about the scene happening here,” he says, “and it looked very conducive. I started calling friends to come paint here. Over the last three years, we painted with over 100 people. We painted in ‘underground’ places like chawls.”
Zain Siddiqui, co-founder, says the decision to have only women artists came from realising that only about 10% of the street artists they had in their database were female, and though they were all very good, their work wasn’t seen as much. He is happy that aside from MMRWA giving the collective a free hand on the art, the community is behind them. “People from chaprasis to old uncles have come to help. We have had friends donate. Camlin has donated paints.”
Graffiti is commonly regarded as underground, so it feels good, Siddiqi says, to be doing things with permissions sorted out. Street art too has changed, he says, “It has to adapt to what the community wants. The world has changed.” Dhareshwar remembers that getting permissions took time. “In my own building, it took me a year and half. Whatever work we did was without permission. Now we have the chance of doing it a proper way, more inclusive, engaging the community. It’s way cooler than what we used to do.”
No longer underground
Anpu Varkey is one of the artists leading the festival. The others are Sam Sam, Avantika Mathur, Shirin Shaikh, Kesar Khinvasara, and Abigail Aroha Jensen; more local artists will join in, bringing it to 30 contributors in all. Varkey known among other works, for her collaboration with Hendrick Beikirch for painting a 158-foot-tall mural of Gandhi on the Delhi Police HQ building, questions the belief that street art is, by definition, underground. “I don’t have to go out at night to paint just to show what I can do,” she says. “[Street art] is not something that pays the bills, but it has gotten me around the country, from Dharamshala to Kochi, from Jaipur to Shillong, to travel and work in public spaces.” Street art in India is regarded differently from, say, western cities, where it can be seen as a nuisance that public money must be spent cleaning up, she says. “Here, people don’t look down on the work.”
Ladies First will also feature hip-hop cyphers, workshops, films and talks on street art, and an exhibition of works on canvas.
Ladies First, from March 25–31, Marol Arts Village, Andheri East.