Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Little by Little

Two long journeys passed through Delhi last week: one a 'Walk of Hope' led by a spiritual leader, and the other a festival of Street Art.

The 'Walk of Hope' was started by 'Sri M' (aka Mumtaz Ali), covered more than 5,900 km across the length of India, made its stop-over before continuing towards Kashmir, and Street+Art completed its first mega-scale insallations in a drab government colony, and transformed it into the most stunning open-air art gallery in India. Both seemingly unconnected events had one thing in common. A dogged sense of purpose and persistence that brought to life Mao Zedong's famous quote - "The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step."

The Walk of Hope owes its origins to one man's promise to his teacher. Sixty-five year-old Mumtaz was just eight when he had the first 'meeting' with a Hindu ascetic at his home in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. In his late teens he travelled to the Western Himalayas in search of this ascetic, and stayed on for over three years as a a wanderind mendicant, and an "Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master".

Street+Art operated on an altogether different plane. According to one of its founders in India, Hanif Kureshi, it is a collective of artists who used public spaces - often illegally - to express themselves. Last year they had come up with a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi in the most unlikely place possible -- on a large blank wall of the Delhi Police HQ. In a city that already sufferes from an overdose of Gandhi memorials, perhaps this was a strategic - or cunning - move to co-opt that most formidable of all life forms of this planet - the  Indian bureaucracy.

The tactic seems to have worked beautifully. This year, the New Delhi Municipal Committee (NDMC) set aside 60 years of SoPs to permit Street+Art to put up large government-owned buildings across the city.

According to Kureshi, this is the culmination of eight years of behind-the-scenes work. Apart from persuading the bureaucrats to tweek their old rules and approve each installation, Street+Art also managed to get various embassies to sponsor the various artists; the paints were gifted by Asian Paints, and a small band of students and volunteers ensured that the right set of paints and support equipment reached each artist at the right time.

For instance, when Senkoe from Mexico set to work, there was a crane + operator at his disposal for three days (rent - Manlift, ₹10,000/day), two students from MSU Baroda recording the whole thing with a GoPro on time-lapse, and a group of volunteers led by Arunima helping with the coloring, and making sure that everybody got their food and snacks on time.

In few months time, memories of the Walk of Hope might fade until the next Guru comes around, and street artwork may last a few more monsoons, but both will be remembered for the power of incremental efforts!


St+Art India -

* Menon, Aparna (2015): Shipping Containers in  Drab Container Yard --

 Walk of Hope --!/

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