From March 11 to 20, 2017, the walls outside Stella Maris College were painted by college students to spread awareness about growing environmental concerns the city is facing, especially post the 2015 December floods and Cyclone Vardah in 2016. The massive public project got the support of popular Gallery Veda and has been receiving positive response from all quarters alike. Street art has become a great medium to engage the public.
Earlier, graffitis were used by political activists to make statements and street gangs to mark territory. It wasn’t till the late 1960s that writing’s current identity started to form. Over the years, it has become a medium to express oneself as artiste, engage the public and create an everlasting impact on the masses. No wonder then that many young artists and groups have taken to street art over the last decade in the city.Art conveys culture. While family photos and portraits add colour to our homes, street art and murals adorn the walls and street corners of our city making it colourful and expressive.
Joyston Christopher Vaz, who’s been a graffiti artist for almost 10 years, believes that graffiti is a form of freedom of expression. Graffiti may also express underlying social and political messages and a whole genre of artistic expression. “Though there is no particular style, most artists form their own signature style. The best part about it is that you get to explore the world of graffiti on your own. There are no ‘said rules’. The artist tends to have complete freedom and even what tools he uses,” says Joyston. He and his team, Coloured Particles, have even worked with corporates and other organisations that encourage this art inside their office premises to help create a liberal atmosphere and promote free spirit among employees.
The Paint Box, started by Namratha Ramaratnam along with her brother, is an initiative to bring the fun of painting on walls by involving the public, allowing the people to bond with the beautiful city in a more personal way. Namratha agrees that it was initially started to help reduce the littering and public urination, however, the response and the involvement of the volunteers transformed it into a social activity that flaunts the cultural and artistic side of Chennaites. Namratha says, “We involve kids and teens into our projects. It really helps them to understand how important it is to keep the environment around us clean by using art. But we were amazed when even grandparents volunteer to join us! It comes as an assurance that we are making a positive impact among people.”
Other popular graffiti groups include The Third Kind and Art Lab that have been steadily contributing towards street art scene in the city.
While in cities like Delhi and Bengaluru, the street art scene is much larger, Chennai is gradually picking up. As contemporary as it has always been, graffiti still finds it hard to be accepted as just art and not an act of vandalism. But things are changing for the better.