Wall to wall art

Filmmaker, designer and visual artist, Dhanya Pilo (ISC, ) is also the founder of India’s only self-sustaining public art project – The Wall Project (India)

According to you, what defines public art?

Wall projectPublic art falls between the realms of art and urban planning.It brightens up an area, adds context and story while intriguing and motivating, and simply humanises the built environment. The effectiveness of public art is in achieving more convivial urban environments while retaining the idea that imagining the urban future is as much part of a democratic society as using public space. It provides an intersection between past, present and future, between disciplines, and between ideas. Public art is freely accessible, it reflects our current society.

In my ideal, the best public art contributes just as much to the public good as it does the history of art; a relatively unobtrusive installation that ends up beautifying and popularising functional urban space rather than interfering with it. For example, a road in Drachten, The Netherlands, is painted blue to symbolise the water. It is 1000 meters long and 8 meters wide. It was created to form an urban river and recreate the path of a waterway that used to be where the road currently runs. Look at any of the Anish Kapoor stainless steel installations in London’s public spaces – they motivate every passerby to interact with and have fun with them.

How has Public Art failed/ or succeeded in Bombay?

Wall ProjectThe only public art that has survived in India is historical statues and fountains, which are reflective of a bygone era. In Mumbai, the painting of the map on Lion Gate at Regal is reflective of that area. R K Laxman’s common man enjoying the breeze at Worli Sea Face is aptly made and installed and can be comprehended by old and young equally. On the other hand, a huge sculpture of a woman holding a baby with the quote ‘A child gives birth to a mother’ under the Bandra flyover might be sincere in concept, but the execution is distant from the idea itself and would not have worked without the quote. The sculpture should have been self-explanatory.

The Wall Project has succeeded as a movement all over Mumbai, as well as spread to other cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Goa etc. More societies and colonies want to adopt this practice. The BMC, as well as the government, have shown support in the past but it will always be a work in progress. Painting walls at Tulsi Pipe Road, the Bandra villages, Colaba and Andheri, with the support of locals and municipality has been achieved in a collaborative way. More than 800 people have been part of the Wall Project — painting publics walls in their cities. Why? I say for self-satisfaction, to contribute to their city and to be proactive in a creative way.

 Discuss any piece of public art in Mumbai and what it has achieved

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Tulsi Pipe Road project was to write all the Hindi alphabets on each wall and each painter had to pick one alphabet and visualize a word starting with that letter, e.g. S for Superman. The alphabet project was a simple mural concept which when painted would form as a word learning wall for all those who passed by it, like a school text book on the wall. The paintings by the Bandra project, the Wall Project and other traveling artists, has made the lanes of Bandra a charming place to cycle or walk around exploring the paintings. One such is the painting of the little boy eating bhel next to the bhel puri shop, so if any other person buys bhel, he or she can sit next to the boy and eat.

What do you think is the future of public art in the world and in India?

Wall projectThe production and consumption of public art encapsulates the tensions that existed between different visions of the city over the years. It’s also about playfulness and the joy that can be brought to our public spaces. Unsuccessful public art installations are usually the end result of giving an artist a creative role that is too prescriptive, unrealistically high expectations, a mediocre artist who won’t “offend”,  limited funds, or an insistence that “everything is approved by everyone”.

Using public art can actually transform schools, offices, public utility spaces, public spaces, colleges, or hospitals into extremely positive and inspiring spaces. Art, design and technology are separated by a thin line, but need to be ingrained into the planning and execution of all our cities — current and future.

What inspired The Wall Project? How has it evolved?

Photo9 The Wall Project came out of a need to have a creative canvas beyond the scope of establishments. With the Wall Project we were able reclaim various spaces to be public spaces — by painting on the walls and including every curious passerby. It has also gotten people wanting to do more for their city, neighborhood and themselves. Basically, it’s a widely accessible canvas.

It started with a wall in Bazaar Road, Bandra, an old fishing village with so much character yet somehow the house walls seemed unkempt. On seeing one painted wall the neighbours and other artists got interested and offered their walls, and that started a chain reaction. We are in the process of creating a Public Art Centre which will serve as a body to motivate, mediate, research and execute many public art projects, workshops, etc in India.

By Anushka Shivdasani Rovshen

(ISC, 1997)

Photo credit: The Wall Project