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The Rise of Graffiti in India: 15 Street Stories

The Graffiti scene in India is a potpourri of history, rebellion, and contemporary flair, which depicts the nation’s artistic evolution. They emerged from the wall art culture, which primarily served commercial and political purposes. Today, it has grown into a celebrated form of expression, addressing a spectrum of themes from current affairs and political issues to mythology and contemporary culture.

Graffiti in India
A graffiti with Bengali text; Pixahive

The Roots of Graffiti in India

Wall painting on Bhunga huts of Kutch; Ninara via Flickr

The roots of mural art, however, run deep in Indian history. Wall painting has been a traditional mode of artistic expression for generations. It evolved from the Buddhist cave paintings of the 2nd century BC to vibrant wall paintings and rural mud-hut decorations. In earlier years, wall art in urban areas was associated with political propaganda. It was predominant in politically charged regions like West Bengal and Kerala, where walls were a canvas for party symbols and slogans during election seasons.

Graffiti in India
Communist party graffiti on a wall in W. Bengal; Wikimedia Commons

The 80s and 90s witnessed hand-painted Bollywood movie posters embellishing every corner of the nation. Thus, it further emphasises that art finds a canvas in every conceivable form. However, the explicit purpose of street art and graffiti in India emerged prominently in the 1980s.

Hand-painted movie poster in Chennai; Ryan via Flickr

The Evolution of Indian Street Art

Graffiti in India
A graffiti wall in Delhi with the name of the artist Daku; fabulousfabs via Flickr

Graffiti was once dismissed as vandalism in India, but it is now gaining recognition as a legitimate art form. This surge in graffiti started gaining momentum in Delhi and Mumbai around 2006–2007, with artists like Yantra, Daku, and Zine leading the charge. They painted the cities and garnered attention, which led to India sending a contingent of four graffiti artists to the renowned Street of Styles festival in Brazil, marking the country’s first such participation in four years. This festival is celebrated as one of South America’s largest hip-hop and graffiti events, and artists from around the world participate in it. India’s presence signifies a shift in the perception of graffiti, as what was once considered rebellious vandalism is now celebrated on the global stage, marking a significant milestone for Indian street art.

Street art festivals, such as St+Art India Foundation-organised festivals, have become pivotal in promoting and recognising street artists nationwide. This foundation aims to beautify public spaces with murals and give due recognition to the artists involved. Events like the Delhi, Shillong, and Kolkata Art Festivals by Jogen Choudhury have further contributed to the growing momentum, propelling street art into the mainstream and reshaping the visual landscape of Indian streets.

This blog takes you on a journey through 15 beautiful streets adorned with mesmerising graffiti in India, exploring the history, evolution, and benefits that street art brings to public spaces and mental well-being.

1.  Lodhi Art District, Delhi

A wall in Lodhi colony, Delhi; Chat Noir via Flickr

Nestled in the heart of Delhi, the Lodhi Art District stands as a testament to the city’s artistic evolution. The Lodhi Art District is a hot spot for both local talents and international graffiti artists. The themes blend historical narratives with contemporary elements. The visitors go on a visual journey through time, absorbing the vibrant murals that capture Delhi’s rich history.

2. Kala Ghoda, Mumbai

Graffiti in India
The painting of Kala Ghoda mural; Meena Kadri via Flickr

Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda, a cultural hub, pulsates with life as it hosts an array of art galleries, theatres, and a dynamic street culture. The graffiti in this district serves as a vibrant expression of Mumbai’s cultural diversity and the eclectic spirit that defines the city. Regular art festivals and exhibitions further contribute to the ever-changing artistic landscape, creating an immersive experience for both residents and visitors.

3. Street Art Festival, Bangalore

A graffiti wall in Koramangala, Bangalore; Ashwin Kumar via Flickr

Bangalore comes alive each year with its Street Art Festival, a celebration that transforms the entire city into a canvas for artists to unleash their creativity. Beyond being a visual spectacle, the festival fosters community engagement through workshops, live demonstrations, and interactive sessions with artists. The streets become a melting pot of styles, featuring everything from traditional Indian motifs to cutting-edge contemporary urban art.

4. Shahpur Jat, Delhi

 Graffiti in India
 A graffiti artist on work in Shahpur Jat, Delhi; Vikram Singh via Flickr

Shahpur Jat, a fashionable neighbourhood in Delhi, is not just a hub for designers but also a canvas for street artists. The streets mix creativity and style, attracting both established artists and emerging talents. The narratives woven into the street art reflect not only local stories but also global themes, creating a visual dialogue. As you explore the area, hidden gems in tucked-away alleys reveal thought-provoking murals waiting to be discovered. 

     

5. Bandra, Mumbai

Bollywood movie posters painted on the walls; Shashank Mehrotra via Flickr

Bandra is a vibrant neighbourhood adorned with street art masterpieces by artists from around the world. This collaborative effort has resulted in a diverse range of styles, from quirky and whimsical to comical, serious, nostalgic, and fantastical, all thoughtfully designed to engage and resonate with viewers. The murals grace not only the walls of houses but also private properties, shops, schools, cafes, and even inside warehouses. It has transformed the area into an open-air gallery that democratises art and invites all passersby to partake in the diverse and global dialogue curated on these colourful streets.

6. Street Art, Pune

 Graffiti in India
A mural by Street Art Project; Harshvardhan Kadam via Facebook

The street art scene in Pune has been revitalised by a number of art projects initiated by individuals to transform the city’s landscape. These projects include the Street Art Project of 2012, which featured both national and international artists painting the walls of Kasba Peth, as well as the PaintPune Project and the Unity Project. They aim to give Pune’s streets a creative and visual facelift.

7. Street Art, Kolkata

A graffiti protesting the use of coal in Kolkata; 350 .org via Flickr

Called the cultural capital of India, there is no dearth of graffiti on the streets of Kolkata. We can see a shift in the socio-cultural and political thoughts of the city with the change in the kind of graffiti that adorns the wall. While 3D wall art and colourful quotes or witty images are found in the streets of Golfgreen, Mominpur, and Sadar Street in South Kolkata, the wall art of North Kolkata is about famous personalities and contemporary art.

8. Hauz Khas Village, Delhi 

Graffiti in India
A graffiti in one of the alleys of Hauz Khas; Topsy Kamchi via Flickr

Hauz Khas Village, Delhi, is a bohemian neighbourhood where the street art complements the artistic and bohemian ambience. The graffiti here reflects a cultural fusion, capturing the diverse influences and styles present in the village. To truly appreciate the artistry, one must explore the lesser-known corners, discovering hidden gems adorned with captivating murals that add to the village’s charm.

9. Kamala Mills, Mumbai

Wall art outside a restaurant in Kamala Mills; Economic Times

Kamala Mills, Mumbai, stands as a trendy urban area where graffiti mirrors the contemporary and urban lifestyle. The murals here come alive in the vibrant nightlife setting of Kamala Mills, adding an artistic dimension to the city’s evenings. Street art in this area often draws inspiration from pop culture, reflecting modern trends and creating a visual dialogue with the dynamic pulse of urban life.

10. Fort Kochi

 Graffiti in India
A graffiti as a part of the Kochi Biennale; Elroy Serrao via Flickr

The streets of Kochi are adorned with murals that portray famous personalities of the city, the local lives of common people, and thought-provoking murals on socio-political issues. The street art culture gains momentum during the Kochi Biennale, and advertisements for the art exhibits can be seen scattered around the town before the Biennale.

11. Pondicherry

A stencil wall art of Gandhi; Wikimedia Commons

If you’re a fan of street art, you’re in for a treat in Pondicherry! The graffiti culture here is truly amazing. You’ll find art in the most unexpected places, like behind walls, on electrical DB boards, and even on the gates of houses. Some of this graffiti has even become famous on Instagram as the perfect backdrop for tourist photos.

12. Gokarna

Graffiti in India
A trippy, spiritual wall art in Gokarna; Kandukuru Nagarjun via Flickr

Gokarna’s graffiti scene mirrors its carefree beach vibe. Hidden gems of art sprawl across the town’s walls, capturing the essence of a bohemian lifestyle. The murals become a visual diary, narrating stories of sunsets, waves, and the ever-present tranquillity.

13. Goa

Mural on a vegetable market wall; Frank Grießhammer via Flickr

The graffiti scene, bursting with colour, captures the relaxed vibe of Goa—a mix of sun, sand, and artistic rebellion. Each mural, whether tucked away in the narrow lanes of Fontainhas or boldly displayed on beachfront walls, tells a tale that blends together the state’s rich history, party culture, and the never-ending rhythm of the Arabian Sea. The works of the Serendipity Arts Festival have played a crucial role in colouring the town.

14.  Kannagi Nagar, Chennai

Graffiti in India
Mural at Egmore Railway Station, Chennai; Wikimedia Commons  

Known as the art district of Chennai, this resettlement site was transformed by the St+Art Foundation. The wall art aims to change the perspective of the world towards the people living here. The major theme of the artwork also revolves around the residents of this area, i.e., displacement. Besides Kannagi Nagar, the Indira Railway Station, with its 280-metre-long facade, also has a giant wall mural on it, generating awareness about HIV.

15. Thrissur

Wall art in Thrissur; https://img.onmanorama.com

Thrissur city was transformed into an expansive canvas during the three-week “Theruvara” street art festival. Artists nationwide contributed graffiti reflecting the city’s socio-cultural essence on both public and private walls. Each graffiti captured the vibrant narratives of Thrissur.

The Benefits of Street Art:

Graffiti in India
Image Credits: travelandleisureasia.com

Beyond its aesthetic appeal, street art in India serves various purposes. It revitalises neglected spaces, fosters a sense of community, and provides a platform for artists to showcase their talent. Moreover, the interactive nature of street art engages the public, encouraging dialogue on social issues and cultural themes. The positive impact of street art on mental well-being cannot be understated, as the colourful and expressive murals contribute to a more positive and inspiring urban environment.

The graffiti scene in India, as witnessed through these 15 locations, is a testament to the dynamic fusion of tradition, modernity, and community engagement.  From the bustling streets of Mumbai’s Bandra Base to the colonial charm of Pondicherry’s French colony, graffiti in India has evolved into a dynamic language, uniting artists from across the globe. Each street tells a unique story through vibrant murals, creating a diverse and ever-evolving fabric that contributes to the cultural richness of urban spaces. As the graffiti scene in India continues to flourish, these locations stand as living testaments to the transformative power of art in public spaces and its positive impact on mental well-being.

Content Writing And Research By: Ar. Kiran Rathi

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