I like how plumbers in Gurgaon use graffiti. Forget nihilistic subcultures and fighting the system, these guys are just vandalizing public property to advertise their services. Well done fella, you’re more of an artistic rebel than I am.
Graffiti has moved from being vandalism to being debated as a recognized art form in the latter part of the 21st century. Unregulated public art on vacant lots, subways and flyovers have added a certain youthful angst to ancient cities that were earlier defined by their grand columns and promenades. They wear hoodies and sullen looks. They fight tyrannical governments and promote world peace. But before we hail the spray can as the new black, let’s look at this whole thing dispassionately.
1. All graffiti art is not good. For every one great piece Instagrammed to death there are ten eyesores which can only be filed under ‘Vandalism’. There was some street art project in Bandra a couple of years back. The Wall Project. Most of it was eye-wateringly boring Bollywood kitsch and the “spirit of Mumbai”, whatever the fuck that means. There is good graffiti out there. (Mostly in Japan). But it is outweighed by the godawful.
2. You know how a Harley-Davidson just looks wrong on an Indian road? It just doesn’t fit. It’s such an iconic piece of Americana that it looks wrong anywhere except on an American highway. That’s how I feel about a lot of spray can art. My instant association is a Harlem ghetto and 80s hip-hop. And when the same style is replicated elsewhere it looks like a knock-off. And so hardcore wannabe. I guess you can’t fight globalization.
3. The politics of underground artists. Let’s start right at the top. The Pope of the movement, Banksy. Banksy is a pretentious boring wanker who makes pompous social comments, when his art is tired, uninspired and pretty much just a plea for attention and fame. And his minions follow his lead. They’re all recycling the same Banksy-esque armchair politics. “Don’t start wars, the government is oppressive, everyone’s in a ‘rat race’.” The less politically motivated species merely get off by signing their names. Or ‘tagging’, to go by their nomenclature. Which is about as artistic as peeing on a tree to mark your territory.
If you are going to put it out there on public display for all to see, we have a right to judge it on its merits. It’s like a person who’s just bought a violin playing at a nationally aired event. Who gave you the right to inflict your shitty art and your moronic political views upon me? What is the difference between this and Al Fayed’s MJ statue at Fulham or Mayawati statues, closer home.
Graffiti is a cultural atrocity on all counts.
Although if you are looking at solving tricky plumbing problems at home, you may be persuaded to make an allowance or two.