The heads of everyone in the crowd tilt upwards, freeze there for a bit, then move side to side as eyebrows rise in amazement while watching the 25-metre long and 8-metre wide mural of Mahatma Gandhi at one of Mumbai’s busiest and iconic train stations, Churchgate.
The huge art work by celebrated Brazilain artist Eduardo Kobra for the non-profit, public and street art initiative St+art India, has had Mumbai enthralled.
“It’s huge and interesting,” says Kesha Parekh, 20, a college student. “I am surprised to see this mural and also quite impressed to see this instead of a boring wall. It has livened up the place.”
Office boy Raj Moreshwar, 32, is intrigued. “How did they make such a big painting on the wall? I like it. I like Mahatma Gandhi and it’s nice to see such a big picture of his at the station,” he says.
To engage the common man with art is the moto of St+art India, the initiative behind the mural, made in collaboration with Asian Paints. It’s with this agenda that the foundation has organised seven such projects across Indian since 2012. The festival this year (being held for the second time in Mumbai), which started with Gandhi’s mural, will create art hubs in Sassoon Dock and Mahim, get an installation mounted on Jindal Mansion on Peddar Road.
“In India, art has become the novelty of the rich and that is something we don’t agree with,” says Akshat Nauriya, co-founder, content director and digital head of St+art India. “Art is for all and that really is its essence.”
Hence, the collective has been inviting artists to create street art and murals in known and decrepit neighbourhoods, encouraging people of the city to experience and interact with their cities in a new light. Over the years, it also calls upon urban designers and artists to create experiential art interventions in different spaces.
“Mahatma Gandhi is a universal symbol for peace, resilience and the most recognised Indian face in the world. He is a global legend,” says Nauriya. “Trains are Mumbai’s lifeline. So when Western Railways came on board and gave us permission to paint at the Churchgate station, we were excited about getting so many people interact with art.”
Kobra is known for painting iconic figures across the world. Some of his known works include portraits of Oscar Niemeyer in Sao Paolo, Albert Einstein and Mother Teresa in Los Angeles, and Kiss in Times Square, New York. Kobra also holds the Guinness World Record for the largest spray-painted mural (titled Etnias) for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Forty other Indian and international artists have participated in the festival this year to create art at other places.
A mill-like building at the Sassoon Dock, built in 1875, will see Indian and international artists convert the space into a vibrant, interactive art space, which will exhibit art works and also play host to music, dance performances and walks, discussions and workshops.
“We like to take such unconventional spaces and create a unique art experience for people,” Nauriya says.
The docks will play host to the Mumbai chapter of the international art project Inside Out: The People’s Art Project, started by French photographer JR. It sheds light on untold stories of different communities and here, in Mumbai, it’s only apt that it talks about the fishermen, known as the early inhabitants of the city.
Nauriya’s portraits from the people of the community will be placed at different locations here, celebrating the people who make those spaces.
On one of the weekends, Singapore’s famous B-boying group, Radikal Forze, will perform here and so will other national and international artistes in this space.
Mahim will be converted into an art district with the intervention of fine artists, architects and urban planners. It will serve as an open gallery, where people can see paintings and installations at regular intervals, while soaking in the neighbourhood by foot. “Most of our projects are based on the basis of inviting people to experience the space they inhabit in different ways,” says Nauriya.
“Mahim is a gateway to Dharavi, which is an entrepreneurial hub, a vibrant culture space with B-boying groups and musicians. But, people look at it only as the largest slum of Asia. We want to change the way people look at Dharavi and Mahim.”
Designer Manish Arora’s installation will be mounted at Jindal Mansion.
St+art Festival kicks off in Mumbai from 11 November onwards.