On the streets with St+art’s Akshat Nauriyal

Art for everyone, that’s the St+art Festival’s manifesto. This Delhi-based foundation champions art in public spaces, taking it out of the galleries and into the streets, of Delhi, of Mumbai, and next, to Bangalore. Now in its third year, this travelling festival’s already transformed the capital’s Lodhi district into an art district, with walls splashed with colour and geometric forms.

WIP, Work In Progress was held in ICD (Inland Container Depot), Okhla during the month of February.
Artists were brought in to paint on the walls and on over 100 containers, after which the containers would remain painted and go back to being used for transporting goods. St+art has also had artists work in Lodhi colony and surrounding areas to create India’s first ever Art District. The show received a tremendous response, and the next one too will be one to watch out for.

We met with Akshat Nauriyal, one of its founders, to talk about this collaborative platform for street artists, and about art, music, and beat-up motel rooms. How did st+art/WIP come to be?
The idea for St+art came from the desire to have a big, international street art festival in India and to also break away from the restrictive nature of art in India. To a large extent, it’s become the domain of the privileged, something that can only be appreciated by a small section of society. It has become exclusive in nature with access restricted to only a handful of the population. We wanted to make art democratic by putting it in the public view, for everyone. Also, our public spaces are really inert, with our cities just turning into heaps of concrete. There is tremendous room for forward thinking design and reimagining our public spaces in a way the become more interactive and playful. Those are some of the things we wanted to change, and hence the festival.I’d been working closely with the street art community for a few years through my documentary project Now Delhi where I made short films on alternative sub-cultures in India. Hanif (Kureshi) and I had been working closely together for a while since we co-shared a studio and Arjun (Bahl) had worked with Hanif on several events before along with Thanish (Thomas). Giulia is a curator from Italy and she had also been involved in parallel conversations with us about doing something in India. One thing led to another, and we all came together to do the first festival in Shahpur Jat in 2014 which was a smaller initiative. Since then we have founded the St+art India foundation which is a not for profit organisation which works in public art, and the festival is just one of the initiatives of the foundation.

Is there a difference in the way you do the St+art shows in Delhi and in Mumbai?
With every St+art festival we try to do something new, and revisit the format and build on it. All our festivals have been different in that sense. But mainly the idea is to activate alternative spaces in a city for art and cultural activities. For example, the WIP show in Okhla: Okhla is an industrial part of town, with a massive garbage landfill. The area is not one frequented by people who have no work there, but in a way it is also the lifeline of the city, with all our goods coming from there. So we did the show in Okhla to activate it as an alternative to the usual hangouts like south delhi, which also makes for an interesting juxtaposition-to have an art show in a space that is very detached from the notion of art in its daily activity.
Also, we try to move away from the idea of doing shows in galleries and instead focus on creating an experience rather than just a show. Of course a change in city means a completely new set of dynamics and variables to deal with which also shape how the festival is going to flow, but the main idea behind the festival is always to put art out in public spaces so that it is for everyone to see and to create alternate spaces within the city which reimagine how our public spaces can be utilised, and how the same space can have several different functions.

When/where can we get a chance to see st+art’s work next?
We are currently looking at doing the festival in other cities and reach as many places in India as we can. We have already done one in Mumbai is definitely a place we will revisit in the future for sure, and Bangalore might be a potential spot as well. But nothing decided as of yet. Check back with with us in a bit for more on that.
What’s your insider tip for an art enthusiast living in Delhi?
Move out of the galleries and museums, and find alternative initiatives and gigs happening in the city. Delhi has quite a vibrant art and music community, and there are always small art exhibitions and gigs happening across the city. Go check them out. It’s important to support smaller interventions in your city to ensure there is a place for non-mainstream art to exist. You’d be surprised at how good some these turn out to be. So yeah, look for the supposed 'underground' and build an independent Indian scene.

Do you have a favourite art gallery?
Personally I am not that into the idea of art in galleries. Public interventions are far more engaging as a medium. I tend to be more inquisitive about pop-up events and shows. But I do enjoy what Khoj is doing in Delhi, and I really enjoyed MoMa and the Whitney in New York, and the Uffizi in Florence has some amazing exhibits.

Places you’re dying to visit:
Berlin, Norway for the Aurora Borealis, Sao Paolo and pretty much anywhere in Japan.

Favourite art/music festival in India?
Favourite would have been the Great Indian Rock festival. Being a drummer and having played in a band since I was a kid, GIR was where you always wanted to play. And even though it hasn't happened for a while, I believe it will happen again soon, so here's a shoutout for GIR. Also, Magnetic fields is cool.

Your in-flight chill regime:
If I am not working through a flight then my ‘ritual’ is headphones and music, and a pen and notebook to write down thoughts because I find that flights can be unintentionally stimulating. Also the seat farthest away from the babies.

Weirdest thing you’ve seen on your travels:
I recently did a road trip across America and Canada over a month where needless to say I saw a bunch of weird shit, and all the cliches about America, drawn from the films and general popular culture, started to manifest into reality. We were on a budget, and stayed in several budget motels, but the strangest was a motel somewhere in between California and Arizona. It was around 3am and we entered a room to find the whole place turned upside down, with a broken table, sheets on the floor and the strangest smell. The bathroom door had been kicked in to the extent that a part of it was hanging from the wall. Pretty strange site to walk into. We asked the manager what was going on and they’d given us a the wrong room (there had been a brawl the night before). We still stayed there though. That was pretty weird.

Favourite street artist?
Too many to pick one. Some of them are Blu, JR, Swoon, Borondo, Shoe, Os Gemos, Amitabh Kumar, Daku.To know more about St+art, visit their website. For more on Akshat’s Now Delhi project, visit the website.
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