Amitabh Kumar on Street Art in India

Mural by Amitabh Kumar

If you come across an intriguing, unusual animal or a bird-shaped graffiti around Shahpur Jat or Khirkee extension in New Delhi, you are probably reflecting at Amitabh Kumar’s creation! Glorifying the burnt and deserted walls of Khirkee extension, his graffiti narrates a tale of chaos and curiosity that life is made of.

Born in Kolkata, popularly known as the cultural capital of India, Amitabh Kumar delves himself into various kinds of creative art forms. Having completed a Fine Arts course from the renowned university of Baroda, Kumar derives inspiration from “impulses and a preoccupation with the human condition at large.”

“I think a large part of my commitment to practice comes from understanding my role as a reconstructive agency as opposed to a representative one. Most murals that I have done are specific responses to site and try to escape representative gestures of preachy correctness.”

Indeed! For me, his work looks like a fragmented part of a dream. You suddenly see lines scratching their way through the wall and then diffusing into it. His work is an answer to your confusion and imagination.

Apart from graffiti, Kumar indulges himself into comics and sketching. Blending Indian gods and goddesses in multiple shades, his sketches are a fusion of Indian culture and colour. He has also co-initiated the Delhi based comics ensemble, The Pao Collective.

The Pao Collective received a lot of praise from the Indian media and audience. Kumar’s graphic narratives in The Pao talk about India and the things that make India what it is, subjects varying from cows, goats, eagles, beggars, busy streets, rats and of course countless strokes. One such piece ‘The Cow Ate It Up’ takes its inspiration from a phrase in Hindi language.

Kumar puts it like this- ‘In Hindi there is a phrase called ‘Gai kha gayi’ (The Cow Ate It Up), which is used when things are not found in their place, or are suspected to having been stolen.’ ‘The Cow Ate It Up’ shows a cow, filled with innumerable lines, and its horns overlapping known Delhi streets. It subtly whispers of India’s rich culture and diversity.

Kumar enjoys both comics and street art. Comparing both he says,

“Comics calls for a very specific constructive faculty and it’s probably a more rigorous and precise practice than others. After you’ve poured yourself into a piece, you also have to find ways to get it across to people. I am interested in not only creating an artwork but also finding ways to make it public, which is what makes street art such a fulfilling practice. The response and the access are immediate.”

In Bangalore, as a part of Srishti school of Art, Design and Technology, he is trying to create “a distribution network that can sustain, amongst other forms, some eclectic graphic art practices.” Kumar has also worked with the Sarai Media Lab (2006-10), where he researched and made comics, programmed events, designed books and co-curated an experimental art space.

“I have invested myself in creating an eco-system that can support various alternate art practices. It’s not enough to make a comic; one also needs to be a maker of a culture that can sustain it. Similarly the larger goal with murals is to build public consensus around it and create avenues that can lead to the sustenance of street art practices.”

What separates Kumar from other graffiti artists in India is his search and depiction of subjects which are very random yet valuable, subjects about which we seldom think of. Kumar’s art gives space to such subjects.

Kumar also participated in the first ever street art festival held this year in February. “My piece in Delhi was probably the most important one I’ve done so far and one where I learnt, amongst other things, that the engagement with public (both as space and community) can be one of contestation. I had no designs, no sketches, and no references; only a basic idea of my process and impulses that I wanted to investigate as an artist. I finally made a giant amorphous form, made up of 14 layers of overdrawing and worked on for about 10 days. It was my biggest piece and was the longest that I had spent on the wall.”

Too Tampoo Tampagne by Amitabh Kumar

Too Tampoo Tampagne by Amitabh Kumar

His work in Delhi definitely speaks louder than others. Painted in layers and striking patterns, one cannot miss his creative forms on Indian walls. And talking about walls, Kumar thinks a wall is a canvas in its form!

“The first thing is to acknowledge that an empty wall is never really empty. Unlike a blank piece of paper, it’s pulsating with life. Our response to site shapes the image. The wall on which you paint is about half your artwork.”

People in India have perceived his work in both awe and amazement. Some might pass it taking it as another crazy art on the wall, while others lose themselves and hover, trying to fit in the pattern and strokes.

“We are at the cusp of a major movement, where a very high velocity of practitioners will be mobilized to working in public spaces. With this rush we can also expect many styles, many voices and many agendas. It is how we deal with these various sets of pluralities that will set the tone for the time to come.”

Directory of art organizations and street art mentioned in the article:

>>Amitabh Kumar’s website<<

>>The Pao Collective<<

>>The Cow Ate It Up by Amitabh Kumar<<

>>Amitabh Kumar’s street art for St. ART Delhi<<

>>Sarai<<

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