Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
Anonymous street artist "Guesswho" questions the place of contemporary art in India.
Over the past two years, graffiti art in cities across India has gotten a lot of press. Walking through the alleyways of Delhi's trendy nooks, you'll notice a lot of new color on the walls. Local artists have been pretty active, and this year, the city also saw a huge international Street Art Festival, which several well-known Indian and international artists attended. But it's not only in the big cities; murmurs about street art have reached a crescendo in smaller metros, like the Southern city of Kochi, says a graffiti artist from the city who goes by Guesswho. In his new body of work, he (or she) satirizes India's artist community and its old and new audience.
"All of a sudden, everyone in Kochi is interested in contemporary art and street art," Guesswho writes in an email. "People can look at these images and laugh at themselves."
Guesswho has been hailed as India's Banksy (though he's not the only Indian street artist to be called that) because his previous work was said to criticize the Kochi art biennale—India's first and only biennale—held in his city last month. But Guesswho shies away from calling his work protest art.
"It was never a protest ... these images are trying to poke at the purpose of art—not just established art practices but graffiti as well," he (or she) says. "It is more of a introspection."
Guesswho's beef is not with a particular art festival or exhibition, but with the way art is regarded in India. In some circles, the emphasis is on exclusivity—on restricting the audiences to only those "who are serious" about the art: In some arts circles, "seriousness" is measured in money spent to attend openings and in one's ability to understand English captions and titles. Other Guesswho works question how to make art more accessible. Opponents of this view say that opening the doors of high art to everyone might mean that the value of the art itself gets lost in the crowd, Guesswho explains.
"These conflicts interested me," Guesswho says. "Art is for whom?"
Images Courtesy: GuessWho