From New York City’s graffiti boom in the 1960s to its expansive presence as a subculture across the world today, street art has been a constantly-evolving mode for cultural production, social transformation and creative discourse. It comes as no surprise that Mumbai - the vibrant, bustling art capital of India - is at the forefront of the growing street art scene in Asia. Both local and global artists have taken to using the city’s sprawling old buildings, broken walls and narrow gallis as their canvases. From colourful drawings, sanctioned murals, old-school graffiti, and even the hilarious and strange “poker” scribbled around the city, Mumbai has seen several thousand pieces come and go over the years. While some street art collectives like St+Art India have breathed life back into vast, forgotten spaces, other artists have chosen well-trodden paths to convey social messages and share their artistic visions.
It’s impossible to collect and categorize every work - and some would argue that that is precisely the point - but here are some of the most beautiful and impactful works that have taken Mumbai by storm. What’s so special about street art is its unpredictability and elusivity, so if you’ve seen these incredible works already, cherish them while they last. And if you haven’t, go seek them out before they fall prey to the next wild Mumbai monsoon.
I. Jas Charanjiva’s Pink Lady
No list of Mumbai’s street art scene is complete without featuring Jas Charanjiva, the co-creator of Kulture Shop, who is widely known for her “Pink Lady,” an all-pink, sari-clad Indian woman wearing gold jewellery and a knuckle duster that reads “BOOM.” The piece can be seen scattered across the city, from outside the Bagel Shop in Bandra to the streets near Leopold Cafe in Colaba. It was created after the 2012 Delhi rape case and is a simple and powerful call to action, meant to encourage dialogue. Similar to her other iconic works, Smoking is for Villains and Horn Not OK Please, the piece challenges social conditions with effortless wit. “The work I create on the street is intentionally easy to grasp and easy to forgive for being preachy because it’s cute, fun and adds some whimsy and beauty to their area,” she says.
II. #BreakingTheSilence by Jheel Goradia
You may have seen Jheel Goradia’s witty, hard-hitting pieces from her project, #BreakingTheSilence, on the walls near Juhu’s NMIMS college and other parts of the city. Using common and relatable Bollywood themes that turn sexist tropes on their heads, her work emphasises the frustrating and violent realities women go through daily – from eve-teasing and slut-shaming to domestic violence, rape and human trafficking. She hopes to inspire people to speak up for such injustices, understand them as national issues of moral bankruptcy, and work towards empowering women everywhere.
III. Bonded Not Bound by Shilo Shiv Suleman
The founder of The Fearless Collective, Suleman is a Bangalore-based street artist whose gorgeous portraits can be found on the walls of Fort and Dharavi, and in several other cities around the world. Suleman’s work puts the spotlight on gender imbalances in the country through eccentric designs and mystical themes. This piece in particular, titled ‘Bonded Not Bound’, is a beautiful, blue mural in the densely-populated Dharavi, created by a group of inter-generational local women and Suleman. It is an ode to the physical space that women share - by virtue of their constant proximity to each other in the city’s slums - but the lack of space to live, think, study and be free. For these women, some bonds are necessary while others are restrictive. This piece celebrates the sisterhood that they have built, the bonds that encourage care and support, but to which they are not bound.
Infamously known as Mumbai’s Banksy - not least because of a stylistic similarity - “Tyler” is a street artist who leaves tiny masterpieces around the city, many of which can be found in Versova and Andheri. Sharp, accurate and bitingly funny, his pieces call out India’s obsession with consumerism and the crony capitalism that has become wrought in our social fabric. Some in particular capture the essence of modern-day life: a man and woman – with CCTV cameras instead of heads – hug each other; a man dressed in professional office-wear is tied up by a red rope that leads to a drain (piece titled ‘9-6’); kids play with a crate that says ‘Enjoy Capitalism’ in the recognisable Coca Cola format. Keep an eye out for these little gems, as they will be hard to spot but are sure to evoke a powerful reaction.
V. ‘Inside Out’ at Sassoon Docks
Last December, over 30 artists part of the St+Art Urban Art Festival undertook a massive art project to transform Mumbai’s 142-year-old Sassoon Docks in Cuffe Parade. One of the oldest docks and largest fish markets in the city, Sassoon Docks is now home to several murals and installations from artists around the world. One of the most relevant and impactful works is a piece by artist JR titled ‘Inside Out,’ a series of monochrome print portraits of local Koli residents, lining the exterior of the dock buildings. It’s a celebration of the vibrant Koli community, integral to Mumbai’s history and culture. Their stories are frequently overlooked, particularly since so much of their native space is industrialised, gentrified or otherwise taken over by the city (including Sassoon Docks itself). The work is a reminder of untold histories that are struggling to be kept alive in modern-day India.
VI. Coming Home by DOME
This large, surrealist and colourful piece in Bandra, called ‘Coming Home’, was painted by German street artist DOME (@dome_streetart). Painted on the side of the 6-storey Diamond Arch Building next to Salt Water Cafe, it depicts a “boney” fisherman with a cow’s head, cycling home carrying the day’s catch and a guitar. Presumably a tribute to the hectic and unnoticed work of Bandra’s poor, urban fishermen, the piece is meticulously created with shiny gold acrylic paint in contrast to the building’s crumbling exterior. Subtly highlighting the city’s economic divides, the piece is thoroughly captivating to look at.
VII. Mural on Shri Markandeya
Painted by Italian artist Luis Gomez, this mural in the heart of Dharavi was curated by St+Art in an effort to revive the area’s reputation as a hub for culture, entrepreneurship and small business - showing the world that it’s more than just a slum. The work itself is a lovely portrait of a woman holding a rose, well-blended onto the front of Shri Markandeya Co-op. Housing Society, a building that also features the now-infamous rainbow on its south side. Several other artists have left their mark on the facades and water tanks of Dharavi buildings, including the artist “BOND” who incorporates his name into every piece.
VIII. Boy Hugging The Rainbow - Supari Tank Municipal School, Bandra
Located on the exterior of Supari Tank Municipal School, this beautiful piece is by anonymous Hamburg artist TONA, whose work has been seen in cities across India since 1999. TONA’s work ranges from basic graffiti to sophisticated silkscreens, stencils and acrylic cutouts. His paintings are usually simple, sweet renditions that may be framed within larger social narratives. In this instance, the boy hugging a rainbow may well be a nod to the many Queer Azadi movements that have taken place in Mumbai. “In a world that often seems to be unfair, mean and brutal,” TONA uses “dreamy, sensual and emotional perspectives” – instead of the street art world’s “usual criticism and irony” – to counter the cynical perception that “people are blinkered.”
Mumbai is a massive city and we are a small office! If you have come across a piece of street art that you absolutely love and would like to see featured on lists like these, snap a photo and send it to us at [email protected].
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