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Posted at: Dec 20, 2015, 12:31 AM; last updated: Dec 16, 2015, 7:02 PM (IST)

Bohemian walls

Be it to protest the Paris attack with paintbrush or spray colour in the dull streets of our cities, art expressed through wall graffiti is gaining popularity

Sujoy Dhar

It is art inspired by one of the deadliest terror strikes of this year. But when in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, graffiti artists came together to form a group and express themselves through street art in Paris, their wall graffiti became an expression of protest and resilience that is not driven by any Islamophobia, but by strong appeal for world peace.

The Latin phrase Fluctuat nec mergitur, meaning “tossed but not sunk” became the buzzword for artists since it has been the motto of the city of Paris since 1358.

Street art that is expressed through wall graffiti is gaining in popularity worldwide, often speaking the language of protest, alternative politics and angst of youth or used to convey plain emotions like love and loss. The world now speculates in bafflement about the unknown and mysterious English graffiti artist Banksy, who expresses himself (or herself?) through satirical street arts with many of iconic works displayed in London’s East End.

While it is still unknown who Banksy is, according to a 2008 The Mail on Sunday investigation, he is believed to be Robin Gunningham, a former pupil at the public Bristol Cathedral School. Some even say Banksy could be a woman, or that Banksy is a team of seven artists.

While graffiti art is more a western trend, India, too, has its share of walls being spray painted. In the recent Ranbir Kapoor-Deepika Padukone-starrer Tamasha, there were some intense moments shot in Delhi’s Hauz Khas village in the backdrop of graffiti art, with the murals adding to the mood of the love story.

Hauz Khas is Delhi’s hipster zone with narrow alleys lined with art galleries, alternate bookstores and music shops and food joints. But it is here that you find the most amazing street art in the forms of wall graffiti, under the aegis of organisation like St+Art India.

Under The St+Art India foundation, which is a non-profit organisation that works on art projects in public spaces and is backed by groups like Asian Paints, Delhi now holds an annual street art festival (from December 15 to February 16 this time). The aim of the foundation is to make art accessible to a wider audience by taking it out of the conventional gallery space and embedding it within the cities we live in — making art truly democratic and for everyone. Some of the best wall graffiti can also be spotted if one visits the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh, where the Beatles had famously stayed and learnt meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi back in 1968. The walls of this ashram, which for a long time had remained abandoned though Beatles fans worldwide would visit them, have been painted with pop-art and black-and-white portraits of Beatles.

While India has its share of wall art now thanks to such initiatives, nothing perhaps compares to the explosion of colour and ideas witnessed in cities like Toronto or Berlin.

In Toronto, whether you are in the Graffiti Alley or in Kensington Market, the city walls are best canvas for street artists. A walk down the Kensington Market is like viewing an exhibition of some of the best artworks out in the open. This place is a cultural melting pot indeed. This bohemian neighbourhood has the most kaleidoscopic storefronts and the murals — from gaudy to psychedelic — have transformed the area into a living art museum.

The Kensington Market or Chinatown makes Toronto one of the most famous street art cities of the world. According to an article by the Toronto Tourism website, even Banksy had contributed a few pieces to the city’s buildings when he was in town a few years ago for the Toronto International Film Festival.

While Toronto is a happening destination for wall art, since the fall of Berlin Wall, a part of what remains of the wall has been turned into an art gallery that is now iconic.

The most exciting segment of the Berlin Wall is surely the East Side Gallery where the graffiti painted on the Wall by artists across the world along river Spree in the Kreuzberg area is a creative protest against fascism and dictatorship.

The East Side Gallery, which is a 1.3-km-long remnant of the Wall, is now an international memorial for freedom and contains about 105 works painted on 1990.

One of the famous graffiti depicts Fraternal Kiss/Kiss of death by Dmitri Vrubel with the words “My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love” recreated from an iconic photograph capturing the famed embrace snapped by Regis Bossu in East Berlin on October 7, 1979. It shows Russian premier Leonid Brezhnev and East Germany’s head Erich Honecker kissing to celebrate the anniversary of its founding as a Communist nation. Some of the writings on the wall are food for thought, indeed. If one says “Love Stories Suck”, another says “One Day We Will Be in Charge.” Indian painter Narendra Kumar Jain’s The Seven Stages of Enlightenment features in the gallery too showing off an essential quintessence for colourful depiction in India.

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