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August 25, 2014

Art bombing the streets

by Zoya Puri

How can one really ease the movement of an outsider in a new terrain or coax entry where all other spatial signs are discouraging for a person unfamiliar with the place. As an architect I understand the principles of urban landscapes and human behavior, while as an artist and designer I want to address the issue in a way that synthesizes the different disciplines. An important component of way finding was the insertion of “attractors” which would be the points of generating interest in an otherwise unwelcoming space, landmark at important turnings and an artistic way of introducing infrastructural support.

It is basic human psychology that we can overlook negatives of our environment, if not associate a positive connotation with a space, if there is a presence of an art intervention in it. It is this very idea that inspires the creation of some of the most beautiful street art / urban installation in some of the most damaged public spaces.

My goal was to install these attractors at strategic points in the village to highlight a range of issues from the reclamation of a space, the cleaning up of another, to bringing light to some of the darkest streets. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, the garbage issue of the community has been a big problem and I’m finding the need to address it in every aspect of my project. It is integral to most of the problems of the community from their own infrastructure to the prejudices harbored by outsiders.

For the past 4 weeks, I had been holding workshops with the kids at making installations from waste to highlight a particular issue that they wish to address in their community. Some of the topics that came up and led to three-dimensional explorations where the concerns regarding dark and narrow streets or stairwells, the water shortage in the area and its wastage, and the excessive littering and spitting of betel-nut juice in the streets. The subsequent urban installations that came up were the students’ interpretations of making others aware of these concerns in the streetscape.

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Our project was not meant to be a cleanliness drive for the community. Though we tried to tackle the issue to the best of our ability with the limited resources and time, we wanted to address the larger issue of the mobility through the streets. Therefore, our interventions which include cleaning of certain spaces are tied with the insertion of our public murals/installation in those spaces to highlight our role in reclaiming that space instead of the unusual attention to their duty on the part of the municipal cleaners.

Having established certain way-finding clues to guide people’s movement through the village, we now set about targeting spaces which are either important visual locations in the form of T-junctions & crossings, or those which are particularly unfavorable in passing through by either being too dark, narrow or trash filled. We started to art bomb these spaces. Our interventions are of 4 types – painted murals for striking visual impact, murals incorporating tactile and temporal elements, adding a textural or sound quality to them, to be experienced by touch for narrow streets where people’s instinct is to run their hands along the walls as they move along. Additionally, we are installing installations that incorporate light features for particularly dark spaces, and installations from reclaimed trash for spaces with a lack of adequate surface area to paint on.

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We have been joined by a group of very enthusiastic volunteers from the neighboring Delhi University college – Lady Sri Ram College for Women in this street-art phase of the project, whose creative inputs and mentorship is great for the kids, only exposed to my thoughts and ideas all this while. These volunteers also form an important group of outsiders uncomfortable with entering and engaging with the Zamrudpur community, suffering from many of the prejudices I am hoping to fight. Having a small group actively work with us is a great way to start breaking this barrier, since they go back and talk to their friends about Adhyayan and the community, thus generating an interest among others.

This phase is also an exercise in taking ownership of spaces in the urban streetscape. By marking places that we are cleaning up, with art, the hope is to deter their re-degradation into unfavorable trash dumping sites. This has helped support our arguments and meetings with the government and municipal officials that we are trying to meet weekly, and maintain pressure on to become more active in their dealing with such urban villages.

taking ownership of spaces

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– Zoya

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