History & Culture

How street art plays a role in the Jamia resistance

Aishe Gosh stands in front of a mural that depicts her   | Photo Credit: Sreekanth Sivadasan

It’s about 7.30 p.m. Protests at Jamia’s gate number 7 have dwindled. The crowd that was a part of the loud sloganeering and speeches is returning home. But not a group of artists, illustrators, and volunteers. They stay back, painting the walls outside of Jamia Millia University, near gate 2, on the main road, in the bright colours of resistance meant to attract the attention of an onlooker.

“I have seen how art plays an important role in the history of resistance. As an artist, I feel it’s my duty to be a part of this moment, through my art,” says 21-year-old Simeen Anjum, a second-year student at Jamia’s fine arts department. She talks of the ‘faceless’ artist Banksy being her inspiration, as she works on the layouts. Simeen manages a team of five members with about 20 volunteers. Some draw on walls, others fill in colours, and still others fetch and carry paints, brushes and containers. Then there are those who hold the ladder.

Initially she started to paint alone, but gradually people from her department, volunteers from other departments and passersby began joining her. One such person was Nushtaq, 30, a painter who’s a resident of Okhla village. “Painting is my work, but more than that it’s my hobby; it gives me pleasure,” says Nushtaq who initially wanted to be in the armed forces, but now sees himself as part of the group of protesters.

Artists painting

Artists painting   | Photo Credit: Bilal Ahmed

Some walls already had anti-oppression, pro-protest messages sprayed on them. These are left as is. This is to remind onlookers that these walls were first claimed by students who had suffered and angry, and felt the need to express themselves to the outside world.

It was Simeen’s idea to draw and paint more systematically on others, to give the already-there artwork context. There are portraits of Aishe Ghosh, Rohith Vemula, Najeeb Ahmed, and Bhagat Singh, each telling a silent story. A representation of the women of Shaheen Bagh was done by Anirban Ghosh, from NID, Ahmedabad.

“There are many forms through which people protest,” says 22-year-old Saud Ahmed, another painting protester who’s a student of international relations at Jamia. He adds that art and culture have always played an important role in protests. “Some people sing songs and shout slogans; we have decided to imprint these slogans on the walls,” he says, citing the words of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Hum Dekhenge on a wall.

Wall art showing Rohith Vemula

Wall art showing Rohith Vemula   | Photo Credit: Bilal Ahmed

“By looking at this wall art, people are more likely to notice and understand what is going on,” says Simeen. Photographs of the graffiti are doing the rounds on social media. Students and passersby click pictures standing with the art, helping the message reach a larger audience. Aishe recently stood for a photo alongside the one depicting her.

“Even people who consider themselves apolitical come and click a selfie alongside this graffiti, and are [thereby] taking a political stance. These words and the paintings force them to think,” adds Saud.

Students refer to Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano who said, “The walls are the publishers of the poor.” Ironically, in July last year, the same words were used in a letter from the then president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s student union, N. Sai Balaji, when the Vice Chancellor had ordered the removal of wall posters.

Th students, who have created more than 30 artworks in the area, hope to do more here and in other areas of protest. Akhtar Choko, 25, a student of international relations, at the college, is from Ladakh, but sees himself as a Kashmiri. He says every piece of work goes through discussion, because, “We understand the responsibility of leaving these works for the world to see.”

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Printable version | Aug 1, 2021 5:38:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/how-street-art-plays-a-role-in-the-jamia-resistance/article30605787.ece

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