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A Pedestal For Street Art

In India, street art is treated as graffiti rather than as a respectable art form. Artists like Avantika Mathur are helping change the perception

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Not very many art lovers believed it could be done. But Absolut’s ‘A Night for Change’ proved everyone wrong. A unique new global art campaign where seven artists from seven countries came together over the course of one evening to create a transformative mural each as their vision for a better future and tomorrow actually took place last September. Seven artists from Mumbai, Vancouver, Berlin, Rio De Janeiro, Brooklyn, Chengdu and Liverpool came together to inspire people to live in a more open and inclusive world. The murals are all themed around sustainability, gender equality, global unity and freedom of expression.

Artist Avantika Mathur was the chosen one from India. Formally trained in fine art, Mathur uses surrealism as a means to portray what is beyond our conscious perspective. With her art and activities under the alias Womenpow, she wants to encourage women empowerment and help women evolve into the best beings they can be. For the city of Mumbai, through #ANightForChange, Mathur wanted to portray a better tomorrow whereby all elements of the female charisma are combined as a show of strength. The artist felt that in the city of Mumbai gender roles and inequality remain prevalent, the spectrum of crimes committed and discrimination against women continues to increase. What resulted from her overnight efforts, is a beautiful mural, an ode to Mumbai, and a tribute to eve emancipation.  

Mathur is formally trained in art. She has an MFA degree from SNDT Mumbai, and a BFA (with minors in art history) from the Philippines. Mathur has been working with the International Wall Art project for some while now.

Ibo Omari, a Berliner of Lebanese and Turkish heritage, was motivated by right-wing hate to transform neo-Nazi graffiti into playful images, effectively neutering a symbol that haunts Germany. His mural in Germany looks to revive the connectedness Berlin’s various immigrant groups once had. In Rio, Panmela Castro has used street art as a platform to raise awareness for women’s rights in Brazil. Castro is a votary for empowering women such that it creates a more equal society. Liverpool-based artist Beta Rok 75 created his mural to bring a wave of positivity to inner city Toxteth’s residents, beckoning them to look onwards and upwards towards a better tomorrow. Brooklyn’s Fumero has created a mural that is an extension of his character… bold, uninhibited, assertive and unorthodox. His artwork depicts his vision of a better tomorrow incorporating musical symbolism combined with graffiti and abstract style to paint his interpretation of freedom of expression. Vancouver based Emily Gray’s work wishes to free the world from prejudice and discrimination. Her mural strengthens the connections between humankind from a molecular to a cosmic level. Fansack from Chengdu shines a light on the beauty of the relationship between humanity and our natural surroundings, bringing it to life in his vision of a better tomorrow.

All of these artists have spirits maker Absolut to thank for giving their dreams reality and form. Projects like ‘A Night for Change’ are not new to Absolut. In 1986, Andy Warhol was the first artist to create an original artwork for Absolut saying, “I love the bottle, I want to do something…” Since then, the Swedish vodka has collaborated with thousands of cutting edge artists and creatives, including Keith Haring, Damien Hirst, - and more recently Spike Jonze, Swedish House Mafia and Lady Gaga. It has also collaborated with three-time Academy Award filmmaker, Emmanuel Lubezki.

As an upcoming Indian artist, Mathur should rightfully be proud to have been included in this global project. Mathur is from the new breed of Indian painters who use surrealism to convey strong truths and experiences full of energy. Mathur has been known to say that her style and idea of life is very bohemian. Her inspiration is life itself. Relationships and people mean a lot to her. Also important to her is the understanding of different ideologies and cultures. Her art, she says is inspired by her exposure to, and understanding of Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo.

Absolut did not just commission the murals. They also got renowned director, ex-Weiden & Kennedy hand, Aaron Rose (who has collaborated with Shepard Fairey, Jeffrey Deitch, and inspired early creatives and filmmakers including Spike Jonze, Terry Richardson and Sofia Coppola) to create an inspiring short film to launch the ‘A Night for Change’ campaign. Aaron’s efforts were supplemented by the global branded entertainment agency Cult and its sister video magazine, in promoting the project the world over.

Mumbai has had its fair share of innovative street art projects promoted by the likes of Visual Disobedience, Drift and Inkbrushnme. Visual Disobedience undertook the creation of a large size Sachin Tendulkar mural at the MIG Cricket Club, getting painter Ranjit Dahiya to create the batting genius’s likeness on a large wall overlooking the playing pitches at the club so that the Master could cast a benign gaze at all time on the young players who came to practice at the grounds.

But there is still a lot to be done. Most efforts in the area of street art are sporadic and one-offs. Most of them lack civic approvals. Almost all of them lack ongoing upkeep and care. Hence, they tend to get worn-out and fade away with time. Also, still in our country, street art is treated as graffiti rather than as a respectable art form. Because of this, the creators of such art lack both recognition and reward. Which is why the likes of Mathur can be torchbearers for a new art movement in India, one which breaks the shackles of small canvases and space confines.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Carol Goyal

Carol Goyal is a lawyer by training. She also has a Masters from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York.

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