There’s a new breed of resistance artists in the country. And they are working their way into the Indian consciousness.
Meet “Tyler”, the anonymous street artist whose cryptic yet powerful wall graffiti has earned him the moniker of “Mumbai’s Banksy”. The artist who chose his nom-de-plume from the Chuck Palahniuc novel (and later the critically acclaimed David Fincher film) Fight Club has been reclaiming abandoned and often derelict walls in Mumbai and changing them into powerful social messages since 2012.
His work ranges from themes of social injustice, anti-capitalism, secularism and women’s safety, among others. During the 2019 general election, Tyler also experimented electoral politics.
“I work on topics that matter to common people. There are those who write letters to governments to solve issues, others write articles on news platforms,” Tyler told News18. “I create graffiti.”
From painting messages like “Warning: Shopping is injurious to health”, to “made love, now war” Tyler’s style is distinctly like the British artist he is often compared to. “I learned a lot from observing Banksy’s style and my technique reflects that. But the themes I talk about are very specific to India.”
However, Tyler whose art is often tagged as “anti-national”, seemed happy with the “criticism”, being of the opinion that the highest honour for a piece of street art is for it to get taken down. “It means it offended someone in power by speaking the truth,” he quipped. Earlier in the year, for example, Tyler’s artworks depicting PM Narendra Modi and Congress’s Rahul Gandhi involved in a tug-of-war over India became viral. “That piece was whitewashed in eight days,” the reticent artist told News18.
One of his graffiti works that recently caught the nation’s attention was one featuring Bart Simpson from the popular animated American series “The Simpsons”, bent over a blackboard writing the line “I must say Jai Shri Ram to prove my nationality”. Speaking about the piece, Tyler said that it was created in the spate of lynchings that recently took place in India and the dangerous potency in the rise of religious nationalism, reflected in the social media discourse and trolling that is a regular feature of Indian media today.
With a vast and swiftly growing oeuvre of work, Tyler felt that the coming of social media was a big win for artists like him whose works gained longevity and a place in public consciousness through the medium. However, he stressed the importance between graffiti artists, muralists and street artists. “Street art is not about claiming recognition or earning big bucks in the art circle,” Tyler said. It’s about telling the truth that no one dares mention. And all of Tyler’s artworks do just that.
News18.com asked the artists to select five of his favourite artworks and explain why he chose them.
Cops vs Barking Dog
In street art, the barking dog has come to symbolize anyone who raises their voice against injustice. It was originally created by pop-artist Keith Haring, however the depiction of dogs in art can be traced as far back as to cave paintings. In art, dogs have historically represented loyalty, companionship and obedience. Haring, known for his ability to create hard-hitting messages through simple imagery and bright colors, incorporated the dog as the main symbol through which he disseminated various complex ideas. He moved away from the typical perception society has of a dog and used his new deconstruction to push people to question things they often took for granted.
Freedom from Want
In this one, Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, can be seen spray-painting the words “Give me freedom” on a wall. The idea is that though India is free, lakhs of people still do not have freedom over poverty, disease, illiteracy and capitalism. It was created after the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir amid a media lockdown that rendered people from the J&K devoid of the freedom of expression and speech. But even in the rest of India, people suffer from the ravages of social inequality, financial disparity and lack of basic dignities. Gandhi fought for the freedom of India. If he were to come back to this India, would he feel free?
This one is actually an adaptation of a classic 1964 Norman Rockwell painting called “The Problem We all Live With”. The painting became a symbol of the Civil Rights movement in the US in the 60s. To me, it has always reflected that little girls need to be protected by those in authority for their safety and rights to be ensured. I revisited the painting because in over five decades, nothing has changed. Little girls still need to be protected.
The little girl in the drum is meant to signifythe rampant poverty in India which lies out in the open for everyone to see yet people choose to shut their eyes to it. Like little kids bathing on the side of the roads is a common sight in metro cities where on the one hand you have high rise buildings and malls and sprawling slums right on the other. The graffiti acts like a mirror to the society. Reality is easier to ignore than a brightly painted wall.
The anarchy of simplicity
With political regimes the world over becoming intolerant of criticism and questions and coming down with impunity on those who choose to defend their rights, anonymity can sometimes be the only way to keep resisting. This one is a self-portrait. I’m not good with words and it’s hard for me to explain this. But it is very close to me as this is who I am: just an anonymous voice that speaks the truth. Or at least I hope to be.
You can follow Tyler’s artworks on his Instagram handle.
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