On a sullen November morning, we decided to meander through the streets of Delhi to explore India’s first public art district- The Lodhi Art District. Located between Khanna Market and Mehar Chand Market, the district displays museum grade art through murals.
Reaching there was simple, we got down at the gate no. 1 of Jorbagh Metro Station (Yellow line), from where it was a five-minute walk to the breathtakingly good art district. Done by a not-for-profit organisation which aims to make art accessible to everyone- St+art India- the murals cover 26 walls, sometimes facing Khanna Market, sometimes facing Mehar Chand Market, and mostly facing each other on roads connecting the two.
Comparatively silent to other markets in Delhi, the ambience makes it conducive to consume the street art, however, it was only occasionally that someone would stop to appreciate the murals and give them the time they deserve. Given the nature of the art and how it is a collaborative effort of internationally renowned artists from different countries, we began to question how street art was different in nature to other forms of art. How does it even function? Is it merely cultural thought precipitated in forms of murals or does it go beyond that and says something about the artist itself? And most importantly how do surroundings affect the nature of street art and how do people react to it? We seek to answer these questions as we try to decipher the visual motifs in the murals of Lodhi Art District.
So, is it cultural thought? Yes, but a clear diversion from popular cultural thought which often becomes the theme of non-commissioned street art, politics! The cultural thought represented here is much broader when compared to street art in universities like JNU which are known for their effervescent political nature second only to perhaps, the Indian parliament itself. But wait, it would be wrong to say that the commissioned art in Lodhi Art District is free of politics either. With the scale and nature of funds involved, it does propagate some of the government initiatives like The Swacch Bharat Abhiyan and well, it kind of works because the area near these murals is indeed squeaky clean. To vocalize the other side of the argument, the area surrounding these murals is also strategically bourgeoise, as the district is surrounded by the bureaucrats, an affluent social class living and their bungalows, and shopkeepers with big showrooms.
Broader cultural issues still take dominance here as most of the murals talk about issues like Global warming, mythological icons, reinterpretation of symbols of national importance to India in a foreign style like the lotus, menace of thoughts, or even reinterpretation of culture symbols like the Katthakali dance with urban motifs like the stereo or a slot machine. Also, the murals here do not subsume the identity of the artist unlike other street art and the difference of style unique to an artist is also evident. Names of the artist are displayed on almost all the artworks, giving each artwork a dimension of the artist’s personality.
As far as the contribution of location is concerned, the ambience in the Lodhi Art District is indeed conducive to viewing these artworks. The streets were both, low on the crowd and the decibel levels, which gives the murals an opportunity to absorb you in the vastness of their patterns. But the reaction of people given the low count, was something we couldn’t really assess, as every now and then there was a group of youngsters taking photos for their facebook walls and Instagram feeds but other than that it was barely noticed by the busy shopkeeper or even a random passer-by.
However, what these murals do, is that people start treating these walls as something special gradually. The 26 walls with murals barely had any overwriting or say even litter thrown around which wasn’t the case with other walls. The murals certainly evoke some sense of appreciation from everyone, and although it’s hard to find time to appreciate them while passing through these streets as a passer-by but even then, the dazzling sight is good enough to restrict even a passer-by from littering. And even though it’s a blink and miss for a passer-by especially, on a car or a bike, even then it gets noticed and creates an awareness indeed making art accessible to everyone.
We totally recommend you take some time out to visit the Lodhi Art District and guess what? There are enough places around to eat, be it snacking on some delicious Chole Bhature in the Khanna Market, or street food to fine dinning options in the Meher Chand Market.
How to Reach the Lodhi Art District
- Get down at Gate no. 1 of the Jorbagh Metro station on the yellow line
- 5-minute walk from there or take an auto to Khanna Market (ideal fare Rs.30)