(AN UNDERGROUND REVOLUTION LOST )
Advertising is the art of manifesting an appearance. Manufacturing a deity; an image for the masses to drink up. The more absorbtive, the better. Graffiti has been an effort to subvert advertising in most cultures. It is not a mere expression of drawing techniques and skills, or colors. It does not only carry a ‘coolness’ factor with it because it has the element of risk and adventure attached to the artform. Theres a deeper cultural ground that manifests itself into graffiti cultures. Many photographers/ artists/designers have attempted to document the graffiti culture in india. But most seem to be looking at the graffiti generated as part of commercial advertising. Thats not really grafitti. Even commissioned works may not qualify as an emerging graffiti culture. The premise of this art is to articulate what the advertisements/ visual bombardments leave out/disguise or mislead on.
From personal experience, the only authentic graffiti that I may have encountered is scratched out words and figures(usually always pretty demeaning to women) in buses and train toilets. Or the ones at public places, especially historical monuments in cities or ones visited by the civic-sense lacking Indian public which has almost no caste or class distinction. Most of them seem to display a society of sexually depraved men who have been repressed from any sort of sexual talk with women. Secret writings on the walls are their desperate means of communication about their most natural but unfortunately suppressed desires. Also a certain attitude towards sex and women seems to come about which is representative of nothing but highly damaged perception of the opposite sex. This culturally spontaneous graffiti that has emerged hidden in the toilets/trains/ buses of India which spontaneously seems to make an effort to subvert the sexual taboos in the social/familial structures. Opposed to this natural tendency of the Indian graffiti culture, the graffiti that seems to have been born in the tubes of london or the trains of New York has been a more direct critique of capitalism/advertising and inequality of the sexes. This culture has emerged as a pure subversive socio-cultural art with all the adventure/risk but clear social messages and intentions. The commissioned works have come much later when certain styles (like schools of graffiti) have found appreciation and connoissseurs. Some of the works are detailed masterpieces and have become celebrity graffiti artists, some still guarding their identities and sticking to the essence of the medium and its illegality and focus on the art and the anonymity of its presence, making it actually an intended voice of the people. What is fascinating is that the American/European graffiti cultures have emerged mostly from the lower classes of these locations, born out of the need to neutralize the frustrations/exploitations/struggles and their everyday socio-political disappointments which filter into their everyday experiences. Which says a lot about the patriotic, civic and socio-cultural discourse going on in the minds of the young. Their need, so strong, to scribble their message on the pavement and convert it into a whole new artform.
Certain groups have recently come up in Bombay and other places in the country who have studied and found the Western styles fascinating and are merely emulating the styles and doing some commissioned work. These groups, however, seem to lack any sort of vision or seem to be unaffected by any real motives. this could be due to the fact that they do not really directly experience social adversities or feel that capitalism or any other agency(government/religion/family….etc.) has disillusioned them in any way and therefore their non-urgency to express anything. Even though i think, the disillusionments/disappointments are there but theres a lack of expressing or giving them any form of articulation or a mere critique of the Indian urban society by its young(15-40 year olds) There is an air of being on guard, of complying with all constructs of social exchange, pretending, being very careful, lest one is alienated or sought to be a social deviant, misfit at the same time being an elite memeber of an elite community. The youth revolution of the sixties has transformed into college level politics. As Guy Debord would have remarked, mere apprenticeship for becoming a zombie. Kids of white collar citizens do not engage in politics. They do not understand it. The majority of the youth are too ignorant or mere dim-witted towards leadership, society, country, governments and rule. They’d like to pay their taxes, commit some minor corporate crimes, avoid the traffic policeman and any other sort of policeman or law-making authority by becoming invisible and paint beautiful colourful western forms on the city walls, hoping to believe that they can relate to another country better than their own past and present.
There is a tendency in the urban Indian who thinks he can be hip by being part of a seemingly subversive group or just of an artform which represents the new/ the outsider art (especially European or American). Something he can do and talk about that makes him part of an artistic minority i.e. adds an elitist quality to his existence which can help him further manipulate his social status or in intimidating the other more common, more mediocre, not so elite artist on the other side of the table. These groups are not subverting ‘evil’ practices of indian capitalists in any way, rather they want to get their own little pieces of the capitalist cakes using only the surface level technique of this socially critical and important medium. Also these people use the walls of people who are very eager to please them. What is this fascination of the indian lower middle class (is it naivity?) with flashy dressed hip youngsters resembling the Hindi-dubbed Hollywood film actors or the brand flashing bollywood actors. i want to investigate the reasons for this eagerness to welcome the richer, the haves by the have nots. Is it the aspiration to make friends with them? because they (notice how ‘they’ are ‘they’, THE OTHER which says something about the biases of the author here) are not only from the lower middle class but also all that the lower middle class stands for, especially conservatism, more frustrations, more struggle, and usually cinema/television (and now going to the mall) is the only means of adding quality/standard or entertainment from their mechanical survival dominated suburban (subaltern urban? ) lives. and all these respites are also full of the glitziness of a higher lifestyle. so when someone from that higher lifestyle comes with a proposal that seems strangely new, as if it’ll help them enter a realm of the unknown high art, the swish, the glamorous people, its their chance to get an insiders view of their strange polished world.