The slick whitewashed walls of the Lalit Kala Academi’s exhibition on ‘Sports and the City’ leaks / between the cracks left by inefficient plumbing / onto the streets. An aggressive agitation bleeds onto the crumbling cement walls of Delhi as pockets of anonymous groups form to publicly subvert—with text—the text that adorns our new, "cleansed" city: Commonwealth Games 2010.
Over the past year, numerous symbolic spaces have been transformed with anti-CWG slogans: bright, angry, unsigned. Stenciled, spray-painted or just simply scribbled over, these signs proclaim phrases like: "Corporate Wealth Games," "CWG is Anti-Poor," "CWG is illegal," "I hope the Games are a disaster." Other forms of signage do not create original phrases, rather they tamper with pre-existing signs: adding WO to "Men at Work," or adding "For no Pay" to "Men at Work"; crossing out CWG parking or construction signs; taking down posters; erasing the word "Wealth" from the title. One particular group—aware of graffiti’s criticism that the form negates its social purpose by its inherent vandalistic underpinnings—took to poster writing, and the night before the games, simply put up numbers and facts that questioned the modified virtue and courage of the Tiger ‘Shera’ mascot. Another group formed postcards accumulated from artists across Delhi, humorously referring to the corruption, inefficiency and poverty caused by this event.
Graffiti in contemporary Indian culture assumes a unique form: its usual association with marginalization and protest has been obsolete here, owing largely to the already over-stimulating visual culture of posters, booklets and advertisements. The culture of ‘tagging’ (a primal urge to claim topographical territory when psychological territory is threatened) however, has manifested itself in a unique manner: love letters that are etched on the walls of forts and monuments, on the trunks of trees, even on the sides of cars, trains, buses, underground subways and footpaths. Lovers proclaim their own, very private love out into the public; Ajit loves Geeta, V and L forever, My <3 for Madhu. It’s as if a secret were made public, whilst the protagonists of the secret remain anonymous. Its irony makes us chuckle.
For the first time since I've lived in Delhi, graffiti has found itself a cause in public spaces (besides university campuses, which have always had their own insular protests, murals, posters, and demonstrations) not by artists, simply by frustrated laymen (middle- and upper-middle-class intellectuals) who felt an urge to mark their city with their passions.
Grafitti is an old, bright form of text art. It utilizes irony and image to convey a message. Some argue that it is paradoxical to the cause of the city, that it sets a beautiful city off kilter. I say that it is instinctual art, sans hierarchy or ego. It is a physical, hieroglyphical protest of morality and virtue, a will for legislation and happiness. Let these signs then, be a mark of a time when there was discontentment, a struggle, a memory of pain. And when the system reforms itself, these words will remind us to stay true to our city, our invariably locational connection to ourselves.
-- Himali Singh Soin
(Images courtesy of Himali Singh Soin.)
To read more on the social impact of the CWG 2010, visit: