Maqtha Art District

During its sixth edition, in Hyderabad for the first time, the St+art Festival went to the MS Maqtha neighbourhood in the city to create another open-air public art district.

The MS Maqtha neighborhood lies on the banks of the Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad. An urban village, it stands as an anomaly of sorts compared to its surroundings. Courtesy its location on the banks of the city’s iconic lake, the neighbourhood is prime real-estate; yet it exists today as an urban village with neglected structures and cramped living spaces.

However, with a vibrant living ethos, it is home to an extremely close-knit community which has a strong self-dependent nature of living and working. The region also hosts many domestically run shops which explore the crafts of block-printing and saari-making.

For the festival in 2016, Maqtha hosted 5 international and 6 Indian artists to create artworks in and around the locality. The diverse mix of international and local artists experimented to create a fresh dialogue with the local populace, finding themselves a most engaging and receptive audience. By the end of the project, the area was home to a walk-through art district open for all, additions to which were made during subsequent editions of the festival in the city.

Upon our first visit to the area, we were awestruck by the spectacle of its buildings. They breathed in compact arrangements, and when viewed together looked like pieces in a standing jigsaw puzzle. The lineup artists started work for the art district on these very large buildings, excited about the potential this key location in the Hyderabad cityscape had to offer.

The first person to start work in the neighbourhood was Netherlands-based artist Daan Botlek. Noticing the problem of urination in open, Daan, who is usually diplomatic in his work, indulged in some social criticism through his piece, ‘Taking the piss out of the guys taking a piss’. The mural featured Daan’s signature ‘man’ taking on the role of a urinator-tosser and throwing those found peeing on the walls below the building into the adjacent Hussain Sagar lake.

Even while the mural was being completed, there were several instances when men could be found directly urinating on the wall that said “Don’t pass urine” in bold, red paint. Daan’s urinator-tosser in ‘Taking the piss out of the guys taking a piss’ was depicted throwing those found peeing on the walls below the building into the adjacent Hussain Sagar lake.

Siberian artists Artez and Nikola, friends since their time together in architecture school, had been collaborating for artworks on walls in Serbia. In November 2016, the foundation invited the artists to collaborate on a wall in Maqtha, but impressed by the tall and towering possibilities walls in the neighbourhood offered, they decided to create two individual pieces.

Artez had been a frequent visitor of India and had worked with the foundation during festivals in 2014 and Bangalore, 2016. He had the experience of having created artworks on various scales. In Maqtha, he decided to take on the biggest canvas he had ever worked on - an entire building.

“My presents are wrapped” was inspired by Artez’s love for plants and the changing hues of sunrise when viewed from a height and from the ground. With the help of a team of energetic volunteers, the artwork was painted over a course of 8 days.

Nikola Mihajlović’s mural was a response to everything he experienced when on the streets of Hyderabad - from the heat and noise, to the vibrant colours of the city. It was a spontaneous composition, reflecting the chaotic nature of Hyderabad.

In addition to his mural, Artez also conducted an open-for-all workshop where over the course of a day participants were introduced to the basic techniques and history of graffiti-writing. Equipped with some rudimentary lessons, the participants then spray painted on make-shift canvases in the Maqtha ground.

Here, Jean Luc (Bordeaux, France) explores the merging of the abstract with the real through this monochromatic mural, which makes a coincidence between the artwork and its surroundings.

While these artists continued to work in the parking lot area, two Indian artists took over some big surfaces at the other end of the colony. Situated next to the Necklace Road Railway Station, these works picked up on two diametrically different but equally pertinent social realities of present-day Hyderabad.

In his piece, Pune-based artist Nilesh tried to inspect the part Irani Chai played in the social-landscape of Hyderabad. The mural made a comment on Irani Chai’s ability to unify and bring together various classes of people under one roof to discuss and debate pertinent topics of the day.

Artist Nilesh’s piece talked about the role of the decades-old Irani chai in the city’s current landscape while Hyderabad-based artist duo Swathi & Vijay tried to visually articulate ‘FOMO’ or the ‘Fear Of Missing Out in their piece. The duo also engaged with the issue of demonetization in a piece they did on the wall of an ATM.

Swathi And Vijay Maqta Art Dist Start Hyd 2016 5

‘FOMO’ by Swathi & Vijay. "Our intention is to convey that our life is hacked by technology. We see the world through mobile phones and the internet. Even in the off chance that we want to come out of it, we get stuck - like the boy whose leg is stuck."

In November 2016, the GoI introduced demonetization- a major economic overhaul which rendered useless the notes of value 500 rs and 2000 rs (which made up almost 86% of the cash flow of the country). It had major repercussions for markets throughout the country- with Hyderabad being one of the worst hit cities in the country. The timing of this coincided with that of the festival, and on an ATM located right next to their wall, Swathi & Vijay painted their response to the move.

While these works existed on the outward-facing walls of Maqtha, some artists took their enquiries inwards to create murals representing local experience-led narratives.

The artist duo of Do & Khatra piece was inspired by the sight of the many old men that could be found lounging around the streets of Maqtha, sometimes sun-bathing other times just indulging in some local gossip. Their site of work, embedded within the colony streets, saw the constant chatter and laughs of the colony children - who flocked to the crane every time the artists got down for a break. The painting activity often stretched till the wee hours of the morning, but the cold nights were made warm with hearty chai and biscuit breaks with the neighbours.

‘Unusual Usual’ by Do & Khatra is influenced by the sight of the many old men that could be found lounging around the streets of Maqtha.Their piece aimed to lighten the mood for everyone in the locality, and is the artists’ depiction of a usual morning ritual in an unusual manner.

‘Coo’ by Bangalore-based artist Sattired was a visual interpretation of her encounters with Maqtha - which is swarming with children and pigeons. It also referenced the Nawabi past-time of pigeon keeping, which she found was making a comeback with the youth of the city.

Finished by French-artist Alber and final-year students Avinash & Kamesh from Gujarat, the last two murals were made on two sides of the same building and could be seen by citizens driving on Necklace Road.

Alber (Bordeaux, France) over the years has developed a practice wherein he paints portraits of people in different parts of the world. These faces and profiles, painted in his distinct colours, lines and style have become Alber’s tokens dispersed throughout the world. They leave a distinct mark of his presence in the visited areas, as if his artworks, everywhere, at all times are silent observers of the happenings of the various neighbourhoods.

Conceptualised on the lives and atmosphere of the neighbourhood, final year university students Avinash & Kamesh (Gujarat, India) had painted in ‘Reflection’ a portrait of a local resident and his mentality towards his everyday work. The accompanying elements depicted the locality and things commonly sighted in and around the area.

The final work in 2016 included the re-painting of the neighbourhood wall. A local sign painter rewrote the entire boundary wall - retaining its former text, colours and order, but adding a new vibrancy to the area.

A major highlight for the project in 2016 happened on its closing day (which coincided with the unveiling of the love HYD typo sculpture) when the Minister of State for Urban development - KT Rao visited the art district for a curated tour, led by curator and St+art co-founder Giulia Ambrogi.

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