Arts Illustrated

April 1, 2020

Walled In: Art in the Public Realm

The St+art Chennai recently hosted two public art projects in the city that become imminently relevant now as we are walled in and looking inward

Vani Sriranganayaki

In a short video that created quite a stir, fashion and lifestyle blogger Subhiksha Venkat was seen casually strolling along a heavily graffitied wall. Strutting in tune to Jay-Z’s rap song Empire State of Mind, she seemed like she was walking along some newly gentrified neighbourhood in New York. But the catch here was that the video was shared by the Phoenix Market City mall in Chennai and that it was meant to promote its then newly inaugurated art exhibition titled, India Pop. Right before the malls in the city succumbed to the Covid-19 threat, Phoenix Market city was playing host to India Pop – a series of very intriguing and very engaging art displays put together by St+art Chennai in collaboration with local artists.

Travelling Photobooth. Part of India Pop at the Phoenix Mall in Chennai.

A large light installation, created by typographers and artists Hanif Kureshi and Shiva Nallaperumal, sported letters form the Saurashtra script – presenting the forgotten history of a language within an Instagram-able frame. Three life-sized, make-shift photo booths repurposed images from ‘Indian popular culture’ and presented it in a photo studio format – bringing memories of a time long gone by. In India Unfiltered, artists Akshat Nauriyal and Marc Lee presented an immersive audio-video installation that showcased the influence of digital accessibility and attempted to question its impact on public consciousness. Walls along the entry walkway, also the site of Venkat’s now famous video, were covered with murals and graffities – all commenting on the evolving and versatile nature of Indian Pop Art.

Hanif Kureshi and Shiva Nallaperumal, Saurashtra, Part of India Pop at the Phoenix Mall in Chennai.

‘We didn’t expect that the whole urban or alternative art community in Chennai was so active. The entire ground was extremely fertile and responsive. We also found that art in public spaces or even something as simple as colour or vibrance is something that already belongs to the city of Chennai,’ said Giulia Ambrogi, Curator and Co-Founder of the St+art India Foundation, when talking about St+art’s ventures in Chennai.

Akshat Nauriyal and Marc Lee, India Unfiltered, Part of India Pop at the Phoenix Mall in Chennai.

As we both sat in lockdown in our own cities, she recounted over a WhatsApp call the experience of working on the two St+art projects in Chennai – India Pop and the Kannagi Nagar project. ‘They are literally like contemporary museums but accessible to everyone and embedded in the very fabric of the city,’ she said, talking about the Kannagi Nagar project where 16 walls in the locality now sport large-scale murals by both national and international artists. ‘Which also means that there is now a possibility to switch on the light on realities that have been marginalised. We have already seen many consequences coming out of it,’ she added.

What set both these projects apart was the concept of inclusivity embedded at its core – to bring art to as many people as possible. And if, as Ambrogi said, the stories and experiences people share with public art will provide a sense of identity and stability to cities that are changing so rapidly, then that is hope we can definitely use right now.

All Images Courtesy of the Artists and St+art Chennai 2020. Photographs by Ranga Prasad.

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