A few days ago, I jumped out of bed and wandered down to Kasba Peth where I was lucky enough to get the grand tour of Pune’s shiny new street art project.
At its helm is Harshvardhan Kadam, an artist who believes public art (be it installations, murals or performances) breaks social barriers, and is likely the best man for the job. Harsh adopted the moniker inkbrushnme in 2005 for what was originally an illustration & character design studio that created graphic novels, designed characters for games, animation and films, and illustrated children's books. A decade on, inkbrushnme travels, muses, paints murals in outdoor and indoor spaces and encourages other artists to join him. (Follow his adventures via facebook.)
In 2012, Harsh founded Pune's first street art festival, traces of which can still be seen in some parts of the city. This month he organised its second edition and for a little over one week, 18 local and international street artists added colour to dusty, charming Kasba Peth and its surrounds.
Kasba Peth is Pune’s oldest neighbourhood with gorgeous crumbling architecture, an 18th century fort, an alley dedicated to copper artisans and warm, hospitable residents. As Harsh and I zigzagged around it on his bike and he patiently showed me each piece, I couldn’t help but notice the positive feedback from curious children delighted at seeing the walls of their neighbourhood come alive, or locals who walked past the art mumbling, “First class aahe na, ekdum number one”, or kindly offered us stools to take better photos from greater heights.
Harsh and I ended the street art tour with breakfast at Good Luck cafe where of course, I interrogated him. Read on for some excerpts and a map.
HOW DID THE PUNE STREET ART PROJECT COME ABOUT? WHAT IS ITS MISSION?
I love Pune. Its geography is an open canvas. Pune’s people are open to experiences and knowing more about art. But there is hardly anything to do with visual arts happening in this city which has one of the largest young populations in India! Apart from the obvious intention of art awareness, I want to have a strong community of visionary makers and creators from Pune.
Pune Street Art Project is a creative contribution project which allows professional street artists to paint spaces. Looking at the ongoing work, a lot of students and illustrators too are painting walls for the first time.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PARTICULAR LOCATION FOR THIS? I KNOW YOU LOVE THE AREA SO TELL ME SOMETHING INTERESTING ABOUT IT.
The project focuses in and around Kasba Peth primarily but is not limited to it. Kasba Peth's existence can be traced back to the 5th century which makes it the oldest inhabited part of Pune.
Had we maintained Kasba well it would have looked as lovely as any ancient European city. It offers a sense of discovery at every lane and chowk may that be by old houses, lovely doors and windows, even beautiful old faces and lazy cats. It's a place where one can claim to find authentic Punekars! Kasba Peth is also a high for archaeologists. Interesting finds like earthenware buried under layers of ancient silt deposition! So many temples! I can go on and on.
To begin a movement in a city of such unique character, it was essential to consider Kasba Peth, because the city originated here. Street art plays an important role in urban design and development and this project is just an example of what could happen.
HOW DID YOU END UP CURATING AND COLLABORATING WITH THESE ARTISTS IN PARTICULAR?
I have met these artists during my travels and other endeavours. For instance, I met the Russians [who spotted me] while painting in Goa during my art residency and we spoke, and we painted and we painted some more.
I realised during this project that street art is very difficult to curate. Artists from various nationalities & cultural backgrounds react to Indian geography, nature and people in different ways. These experiences need to be channeled with awareness or there will always be a disconnect between the artwork and people. I was only building that bridge between people and the work.
TELL ME ABOUT SOME OF THE PIECES THAT WERE CREATED.
More than me saying anything, I want people to see these works and answer this question for me!
WHICH PIECE DO YOU FIND MOST STRIKING?
I can't pick my fave. But I loved Amitabh's crocodile. When Mutha floods, Mithun, the croc will float. I am waiting for that moment. The artwork will look complete.
HOW DO THE ARTISTS FIND INSPIRATION AND DEVELOP AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND CONTEXT PARTICULARLY THE ONES FROM OVERSEAS? HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK THIS IS?
Art without context is like a ring without a finger. Kelly for example, found shikhars of temples all across Kasba Peth and reacted to the context in a very interesting way. Her piece is called 'The temple is within you'. She extracted her inspiration from the landscape and made this lovely mural.
Miles made a series of paintings focused in one of the areas of Kasba Peth called Geometric Abductions. It does not represent a Pune-centric context but when these works appear as a series in various locations, it increases the curiosity of people who then enquire about something that is foreign to them. That is a successful approach in making street art as well. The engagement of people is important.
HOW HAS THE LOCAL COMMUNITY RESPONDED TO THE PROJECT? HOW DO THEY INTERACT WITH ALL THE NEW ART?
For the longest time, they couldn't comprehend why would anyone paint on their houses for free! But as they saw what what happening, their levels of excitement increased. Old people would stare at artist's painting for hours, drinking chai and smoking a cigarette! Such observations were worth a study!
I have painted across the country. The hospitality by the people of Pune towards these artists can't be compared! Also the mental conditioning of street art as vandalism does not exist here. People here respect the efforts an artist takes to create work of art. They now want more spaces to be painted. People have realised within a few days that their locality looks different than before. People look at walls from a more respectable point of view. Some walls and houses have become the hot topic of discussions. All this is humbling and beautiful.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE OVERALL OUTCOME OF THE PROJECT? WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO OR SEE DONE DIFFERENTLY?
I am satisfied but satisfaction is not enough. A lot needs to be done about production and management. I need more funding options to scale up the process. I want this project to be a crowd sourced project as it grows. So one invests into this as a citizen than a brand. It is too idealistic to think about it this way but that is okay. I would also definitely want artists to spend more time understanding the city.
Below is a map (click to enlarge) so you can check the Pune Street Art Project for yourselves. Thank you so much inkbrushnme!