Over the past few years, the Berlin Wall has been free for people from West Berlin to paint on. Now identified as the world’s biggest canvas, the wall is an iconic tourist attraction. One that’s not only turned the grey shades of city into color but that’s also allowed artists and other patrons to express the historicity of an unforgettable time. Coincidentally, from the age of Dadaism, art shifted its importance from aesthetics to meaning where art was produced for an idea that motivated people or the audience to think rather than merely appreciate the strokes behind a glass covered painting. Due to which contemporary art now is audience inclusive; where the audience completes the artwork as the importance of the art lies in its meaning as well. Therefore, this has led to art flourishing beyond the realms of a museum, as especially in India, the masses are more on the streets rather than within the four walls of an elite household.
In the city of Mumbai, we have a very similar movement flourishing. Next time when you find yourself in the streets of Dadar, Wadala or even the Vile Parle railway station, make sure you hunt down the walls that were once in their natural shades of decaying greys and browns but are now an amalgamation of colourful words and characters. If you do find them, you would be ideally tempted to make them your next instagram post but hold that thought for a moment and pay attention to the idea behind the colors put together. This is what we like to call art for social change.
Project MAD (murals and doodles) is initiated by college going art enthusiasts based in Mumbai. As they prefer to describe it, the project is not only an attempt to aestheticize the streets of the city and keep them clean, but to challenge the attitude of the people in the city. The founding member, Raashi Raghunath explains, “Project MAD was started by me, when I was 17, in order to mobilise fellow college students to clean the city’s walls up by giving them a chance to showcase their artistic skills on a large, permanent canvas that we hoped no one would maliciously dirty once it had been painted.” Raashi realised that there were so many students who were talented and wanted to bring social change into society. Keeping this duality in mind, she managed to gather some college going students and motivated them to make a difference through the means of these murals.
Whether artists or not, these students have managed to paint the city in all the colours of the rainbow and then some. Where everyone from regular office-goers to chai-sellers have the opportunity to access this kind of art and be included in discussions pertaining to topics that often get ignored by most of us. Hence, their mission has been bilateral--a combination of installing social responsibility and appreciation of art. Core member, Shlomoh Samuel explains, “On one hand, we aim to make art accessible to the common folk by putting it on display in public spaces like outside railway stations and on walls overseeing traffic. We also spread social messages, such as ones about the environment, gender equality and AIDS awareness.”
Celebrating the creative talent of young individuals in all different forms, MAD has worked on projects like their first project, the ‘First MAD Attempt’ which was about the environment, followed by spreading awareness on AIDS on the wall of Mumbai District AIDS Control Society in Wadala. They collaborated with MDACS for four long months to transform their outer compound walls into a visual guide of understanding HIV, in hindi and english. The process was an educational experience for the artists themselves as they began engaging in sensitive discussions and extensive research. These walls now help in breaking prejudices and spreading knowledge about safe sex, transgenders, sexual abuse, and medical facilities that are offered by the government for HIV/STDs.
The interior walls of a homeless women shelter called URJA was also given a makeover by them. In collaboration with the NGO, the students got together in filling the old worn out walls with colors. Raashi adds, “We painted their premises, along with them, and taking into account what they wanted to see on the walls of their home. We felt like this was a more rewarding experience for us and valued by the women at the shelter home as well.” Such collaborations made by Project MAD does not only suggest they are here for progressive social empowerment but they want to change how we as citizens treat our own surroundings. As Raashi says, “We came here to change people’s way of looking at public space, as not something impersonal and boring, but something colorful and meant to be celebrated and kept clean.”
With the enthusiastic response they have been receiving since their inception, Project MAD plans to reach out more and further to organisations they can potentially collaborate with. Raashi says, “Our artists keep coming back for more, and we love the high levels of energy during our events that come from our artists and people as they pass by. Our future consists of more public walls and more collaborations, and most of all, providing college students a chance to pick a cause they can actually impact with their talent, effort, and a day of their time.” Moreover, the aspire to collaborate with the BMC to avoid troubles with coloring public spaces.
As chaotic and busy as the city normally gets, we can only hope for people learning through the efforts put by these students and respect it as the same time. As things are progressing, it can be inferred that Project MAD is not merely opening a dialogue for change but is enforcing change upon us. They are a completely non-profit organisation, where not only ideas but resources such as paint, paintbrushes, and other equipments are funded by the students themselves.
Follow them on facebook to look out for their next event and if you did like to help color more walls than they can, you can do the same by funding them over here.
Words: Karan Kaul