Aradhana Seth's 'SADAK' Celebrates & Spotlights India's Hand-Painted Street Signs

SADAKAradhana Seth

For decades, ornately crafted signs have been an intrinsic part of India's urban identity. They weren't mere displays of information but carried booming bursts of colour and character that pulsated with the life of the streets. Aradhana Seth's book, 'SADAK' chronicles this bygone era, a time before the technological revolution swept away these artisanal creations in favour of sleek, mass-produced digital displays.

Aradhana Seth, a multifaceted artist straddling the worlds of filmmaking, visual arts, and design, brings us this stunning new book that centres on hand-painted street signs in India. This aesthetic work isn't just a collection of photographs but a conscious tribute to a fading art form and a celebration of the cultural significance hand-painted signage holds in the Indian landscape.

The book delves deep into the essence of these hand-painted signs. They weren't sterile, impersonal fonts on a screen. Each sign was a sold creation on its own, an evidence to the skill and artistic flair of the sign painters, often referred to as "sign-wallas." Vivid hues, whimsical flourishes, and a blend of Hindi and English, sometimes grammatically adventurous, came together to form a visual language as dynamic as the streets themselves.

SADAK' recognises them as a historical and social document. The book categorises the photographed signs into three sections: commerce and services, culture, and nature and landscape. Each category reflects a facet of Indian society, capturing the essence of local businesses, cultural events, and even the natural world as perceived through the artist's lens.

Additionally, the book isn't simply a collection of beautiful photographs. It contextualises the art form by including biographies of the sign painters whose work is featured. These artists, like Raza Abbas, Praveen Chauhan, and Prashant Janardhan Dalvi, are the unsung heroes behind the colourful streetscapes. Their stories breathe life into the artistry, showcasing the dedication and talent that went into making these visual narratives.

Adding further depth is a critical text by visual culture lecturer Kajri Jain. Jain provides a theoretical framework for interpreting these signs, helping readers appreciate them not just as aesthetics but as a commentary on Indian society. Additionally, an autobiographical text by artist Francesco Clemente offers a personal perspective on the significance of these fading art forms.

'SADAK' urges us to appreciate the beauty and cultural significance that lies right before our eyes, often unnoticed. To recognise the irreplaceable role hand-painted signage has played in shaping India's unique visual identity. As these signs slowly disappear, replaced by sterile digital displays, 'SADAK'' ensures that their legacy is preserved.

Buy your copy here.

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