Colour on the Walls

Madhurya Balan – artist, designer and performer, talks to STW about street art and graffiti in Indian cities.

Image of Dhaanya Pilo from the Bombay Wall Project, taking part in the Urban Avant-Garde Project in Bangalore.

Graffiti is one of the several misused words of our generation.

Which of these images sprung to your head when you read that word: a name scrawled on a surface in an open space, an abstract collage formed by torn posters on a public wall, a monument marred by personal-love messages, a stylized version of a word in 3-D typography in an advertisement, a municipality-commissioned painting gone badly wrong or, if you’re even slightly initiated, a popular work of Banksy’s in another city half-way across the world?

Graffiti and street art arose from a need to reclaim public spaces. The structure and order dictated by authority created a need for street writers, artists and vandals to speak up. From the roots of graffiti, grew the untamed nature of street art; where artists and writers exist in a space of counter-culture with their opinions and art bleeding into mind and eye of the public. In the cityscapes of most of the western world, walls are volatile sites that are tagged, painted, sprayed and stenciled. First world problems?

A heretic in art is almost an oxymoron, as it is a prerogative to rebel and question.


Across the world, with no discrimination, contemporary artists claim public spaces with their art, sculptures, paintings (legal or otherwise) and installations. But there is an increasing need for urban cities to distinguish themselves with unique visual identities. In India, we are constantly bombarded by the visual cacophony of colour and chaos on the streets. Government-commissioned projects rarely communicate an engaging theme or individuality for cities. But individual and combined efforts of artists are emerging.

Bangalore-based artist Shilo Shiv Suleman’s work at the Malleswaram Railway Station

The Bombay Wall Project saw several walls across the city get complete visual over-hauls. The project saw a huge participation of people from the city eager to pick up them cans and brushes, determining what the walls of their city say. Earlier this year, Bangalore saw a project collaboration of local artists and artists from Germany splash(literally) the walls of Malleswaram. The project titled ‘Urban Avant-Garde’ had the artists paint several walls and even buses in the city. Apart from the mainstream activities that reach the papers, there are several self-determined artists across the country who act on their belief of what public art should be and do not cry for the limelight.

Bangalore-based artist Shilo Shiv Suleman painting a bus during the Urban Avant-Garde Project.

You just have to keep your eyes open for those surprises – whether it’s a subtle message on the base of a streetlight or an inside-joke on the side of a bus-stop.

Learn more about Madhurya Balan.



About Shruti Bharath

Social entrepreneur and developmental writer, passionate about creating workable solutions in the areas of improving employability of youth and women through skill enhancement/training and generation of productive and sustainable employment opportunities.

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