The Wailing Walls of Mahim
The city of Mumbai never sleeps. Never quits dreaming. Under the bustle and shouting on the streets, behind the calling out for taxis and the rush hour traffic, the soul and spirit of the city welcomes every stranger with the same message. Look out below.
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If you walk through Mahim and witness The Wall Project, several details about how the people of this great metropolis feel about life comes to the fore. Under the rampant money-making at the surface, driven by the police and politics and the media and the mafia, the pulse of the city is on the walls for everyone to see. Garbed in naked or crony capitalism, the unheard voices of those who take their position in society with a pinch of salt and a can of aerosol can be heard screaming down in more than just red-blue-green.
From political slogans to messages about the use of condoms, sexist commentary about art and graphic representations of just what the city means to its inhabitants, the walls have it, written large and undeniably clear. The subject matter embedded in the walls from cans ranges from Netaji Bose to Michael Jackson, through fisherwomen, AIDS, bolly-wood culture, drugs and rock and roll. Like multiple explosions of personalities in technicolour, a parallel can be drawn between these walls and the desks in high-school that you scribbled on when the math teacher rambled on and on about quadratic equations.
The familiar ‘stick no bills’ doesn’t seem to deter the perpetrators of what was once seen as part of the ghetto-crime scene, and more and more NRI-Indian collectives are now coming together to create a ‘permitted graffiti’ art-deco in a watered down version of graffiti crews that films like Style Wars and Exit Through the Gift Shop have popularized. Some of the art-work on the walls is signed, some of it just blankly stares at you like a reminder of a the continuum of disappointment that the general populace lives in, disgruntled with society around, always looking to pass on the right message with what might be perceived as the wrong medium.
And on days when you’re rushing past those walls, the seemingly disconnected canvasses seem to come together to tell you coherent stories, cogent in their simultaneous prescription of hope against a future that reminds you of the famous ‘One Nation Under CCTV’ piece. Graffiti as expression has always been connected to music, and a sense of espionage.The free-flow of paint stands out juxtaposed against the honking from the street running down from Matunga Road, feeling like undernourished polemic that now remains deaf-mute to its own impotence, obscured by undergrowth and double parking.
With the free expression facing brickbats from authorities, the curation of some of these sublime pieces of artwork might prove instrumental in establishing a wider counter-culture identity for India’s independent artists. After all, it’s more than a story about the bricks in the wall.
written by Vineet Kanabar/ Mumbai