Shahpur Jat

Shahpur Jat, Delhi


Shahpur Jat is an urban village situated in the heart of South Delhi. Located amidst some of the poshest neighbourhoods of the city, it was the site for the first street art festival organised by the St+art India Foundation. Over a span of 2 months (Jan - Feb 2014), 25 Indian and international artists came together to create artworks across the village.

Previously inhabited predominantly by the Jat community and brimming with small, hole-in-the-wall shops occupied by craftsmen and colour-dye artisans, by 2014 Shahpur Jat was undergoing rapid gentrification. As cafes and designer boutiques started popping up on its peripheries, several new visitors started flocking to the area. The heart of the village, however, remained the same – with a strongly knit community of locals occupying centre stage. This made the space a vibrant mashup of cultures and ideologies, and served as the perfect ground for the first St+art festival.

Even back then, unlike in the west, street art in India didn’t have any negative connotations. It didn’t come attached with a sense of vandalism, mainly because the street art scene in India was still in a nascent stage. This meant that our proposal, even though not entirely understood, wasn’t met with vehement opposition from the locals. But permissions had to be still sought. We sought them using two approaches: bottom- top and top-bottom. While the first kind involved knocking on residents’ doors, seeking permission to paint on their walls, the second kind included approaching the pertinent government bodies for permits.

After an initial round of negotiations with the residents, we began work on a couple of walls.

The first mural to be completed was that of Indian artist Anpu, and the community really took to the new cat in their neighbourhood. Since Shahpur Jat had no signage for directions, the cat became a landmark for locals to navigate the neighbourhood - directions were given with the cat as the focal point. Post the Cat, the community really opened up to us, with more residents volunteering their walls. By the end of the festival, more than 20 pieces had been painted all across the village, including some inside houses!

Anpu -Cat. Indian artist Anpu Varkey's admiration for cats and their playful nature often forms interesting themes in her work. Here, the cat is playing with the woollen yarn and is lost in its own world. This work, due to its huge size quickly became a local landmark and meeting point for the villagers and tourists alike.

With the introduction of the artworks, the hope was that people visiting the village would not only stay on the periphery but would be encouraged to step deeper into the village and explore the true Shahpur Jat as well. Once you leave the outer perimeter that boasts of bars, cafes and designer boutiques, you enter the village - a sort of densely-packed area, with narrow lanes and extremely crowded building structures. The cramped building structures worked as beautiful facades.

Sometimes the residents gave us walls with no strings attached. Sometimes, the walls were given with a caveat attached. For example, Inkbrushnme’s wall was part of barter - the residents gave us a wall on their balcony, and in return, the artist had to paint a smaller mural of their choice within their house. Fair deal, how we saw it. So Inspired by the chaotic topography of the area, Pune-based artist Inkbrushnme decided to paint ‘Surya’ continuing with his project ‘Mythopolis’ where he explores mythological themes through street art.

Inkbrushnme -'Surya' Inkbrushnme responded to maze-like habitation of the village, where the buildings and people live in such dense quarters that you often can’t find the sun when standing on the lanes. He painted surya- the sun god, a light-bearer as an answer to this situation.

Another artist inspired by the materiality of the structures was Delhi-based artist Harsh Raman.

Harsh Raman -’Metamorphises’. This wall generated a lot of audience and discussion. His theme of a monster man breaking out of the wall with its fluorescent colours is extremely provocative.

Shahpur Jat is chaos. It's like a maze, and there are these places here that you wouldn’t imagine exist. So for you to come in here and try to find these pieces, will be a game in itself.

- Harsh Raman

One could say that the festival was an experiment of sorts where the artists were allowed to be free in a new environment, and explore their own work within the neighbourhood. Within the vicinity of this small area, one could find anything ranging from huge murals, small portraits, stencils, and paste-ups - a very diverse range of interventions. German artists Foe and Alias diversified the artworks in Shahpur Jat, by bringing their stencil pieces through the neighbourhood.

Foe Shahpur Jat Start Delhi 2014 2
FOE from Germany painted this on the entrance of one of the houses in the village which welcomes you to the abundant joy of kite-flying. The concept revolves around the simple and basic feelings we experience as children - freedom and happiness and the innocence of childhood.
Extending the same theme across the village, Foe painted several similar pieces on various houses of Shahpur Jat.

When a lot of artworks are concentrated in one area, a dialogue initiates. Not just between the artworks and the people, but also amongst the people. With the introduction of the artworks, there was abuzz in the village with chai-time banter digressing from the usual politics and cricket to the new activity happening in their neighbourhood, about the meaning of art and the different interpretations people had. This also inspired conversations between artists, resulting in unique collaborations, where the artists brought together their distinct approaches to deliver mutually-inspired and driven narratives.

Foe Shahpur Jat Start Delhi 2014 1
A collaborative mural by artists FOE & Alias located in the spine of Shahpur Jat.Their theme address the duality of life- freedom and captivity. This captivated prisoner presents a contrast to Foe’s lively kite-flying kids. It was done in collaboration with German artist- Alias, whose work like Foe’s talks about the fragility of human life.
Alias Shahpur Jat Start Delhi 2014 4
Alias from Germany is a stencil and paste-up artist, whose work evokes a deep emotional response from the viewer which could often be upsetting. He carefully chooses specific spots and objects. His emotionally stirring pieces raise questions of human suffering and brutality. The three bullet kid complies with his theme of the grave consequences of war and an imperfect society.

The location is pivotal for Alias. He depicts individual portraits of vulnerable individuals found in obscure and isolated spots- to allow the onlooker to have an uninterrupted, unmitigated and personal dialogue with story being portrayed.

Alias Shahpur Jat Start Delhi 2014 2
Staying true to the stencil origins, Alias mostly utilizes nothing but black and white within his compositions, accentuated with small touches of colour. This stylistic decision works really well when paired up with the themes and graphically designed figures Alias depicts.
Alias Shahpur Jat Start Delhi 2014 3
While Alias’s small stencil portraits populated the streets of Shahpurjat, he felt that he should also create something that instead of adding to the distress of the community, affords them moments of inspiration and happiness. Hence, taking a departure from his usual style, he made this boy with the slingshot on a high visibility wall in the middle of Shahpur Jat.

The variation of artworks wasn’t just restricted to medium (stencil, paint etc), or size, but also to style. The village welcomed Tofu’s abstract geometric patterns with bewilderment and surprise, never having encountered anything like this before.

Tofu SJ St Art Delhi 2014 1
The German artist Tofu mesmerises onlookers with his ardent enthusiasm and geometric precision. He collected large friendly crowds who would try to help and make sense of his works
A pioneer of the rainbows that denote the LGBT movement, TOFU spreads colours across the city. Under his vibrant colour drips lies a global message of love and peace.
Tofu Shahpur Jat Start Delhi 2014 5
Tofu likes to paint simple geometrical patterns to give out optical effects, and he did so in simplistic tones of black and white. He depicted stripes by taking inspiration from how people in the locality wore striped clothes, as well as drew a parallel to the architecture around the wall- where the balconies went in and out in his paintwork.
There was a lot of curiosity amongst the locals - especially the youth - who were particularly drawn towards this new activity taking place in their neighbourhood. They would often congregate while the artists were painting, asking them questions and offering help. Tofu got several cups of free chai (tea) from the local vendor opposite his wall.

Some of the collaborations were incidental, such as the one that Tofu made with Andy Yen.

Andy Yen from Taiwan worked on his piece at the heart of the village. His fluid style is not confined to any rigid boundaries. Often depicting body organs flowing in colour, his work tends to merge with the background and becomes a canvas in itself.

Some pieces took a life of their own when created on the walls, becoming part of the everyday life and spirit of the community. Each piece added a new dimension to the intricate web of community ties in the various parts of Shahpur Jat.

While other artists used scaffolding for their work, Ranjit Dahiya stuck to his roots of using a swing to paint the wall. Ranjit Dahiya is the initiator of the Bollywood Art Project (B.A.P.) in Bombay. The project aims at creating a hand-painted urban art gallery of the Indian Bollywood cinema. With his first mural in Delhi, he stupefies his audience. The painted actress, Nadira from the 1950s is celebrated for her elegance and panache. Dahiya's portrait does justice to her character and took the form of a landmark. The scale, skill and familiarity of the work engage the viewer and do not fail to surprise each time one looks at it.

Amidst the general encouragement and excitement, there was a certain suspicion about the project. We live in a world that is overflowing with advertising - visual culture is almost always associated with some sort of branding or selling. Hence a lot of people couldn’t understand why these huge artworks were being painted on their walls for free. As would be the case in all subsequent versions of the St+art festival, the first walls always posed to be the most difficult because it is difficult to make people understand that the intent of the project is just purely to spread art through their community without any monetary intention.

The piece gave to the area another landmark- with some kids even referring to it as the “tattoo” painting. It came as a result of barter, where Yantr supported the mural with a scene from the epic Mahabharata for the local temple which was adjacent to this building.

‘Pushpak Vimaan’ by Yantr. His use of bright colours and mechanical structures form an interesting mix. The provision of feathers to counterbalance the rigidity of this underwater jet gives an effect of sturdy weightlessness. Termed as the 'underwater monster' by the locals, it was highly appreciated because of the phenomenal display of skill but remains undecipherable.

Tona is a Hamburg based stencil artist. He is involved in street-art since 1999 (graffiti), stencils since 2002, silkscreen and linocut since 2008. He usually creates lively human figures.

This is one of the largest piece done by him. Often termed as 'Tona's boy', this piece quickly gained popularity and there were demands from the neighborhood kids to paint more on their walls. But this piece was also made as a result of an almost volunteer barter. Tona painted one of his small stencils on the woman’s balcony of the woman, from whose house the projection for this piece happened.
Tona Shahpur Jat Start Delhi 2014 6
”In a world that often seems to be unfair, mean and brutal and people are blinkered, it is the motivation of the Hamburg artist TONA to confront this distorted perception with a dreamy, sensual and emotional perspective.”

Italian artist Alina worked on the wall of a jewellery store with her distinct style of painting woman figures in public spaces. The people of the neighbourhood really took to her and extended her the famous Indian hospitality.

Alina Shahpur Jat Start Delhi 2014 3
Alina painted this piece on the wall of a jewellery store in a busy part of the village. A crowd would often assemble to watch as she painted, to the joy of the shop owners who really liked Alina's style. It also went well with their clientele (mostly women) so it even made great “marketing sense" (as quoted by the owner of the shop).
Alina Shahpur Jat Start Delhi 2014 1
Alina’s this work depicts a world populated mostly by women whose feelings are the most complex, articulated and mysterious. This piece in Shahpur Jat depicts women in silent conversations.

Mattia from Italy is known for his colourful, zoomorphic works steeped in a psychedelic, post-pop aesthetic. Producing works that are simultaneously playful and contemplative, he utilizes a complex balance of shapes to communicate in a dreamlike, highly symbolic fashion.


His piece had mixed interpretations within the community. Some locals thought of it as ice cream, others as intestines. There was also one particular gentleman who thought it was a portrait of Indian God Lord Ganesh who has an elephant-like trunk.

Mattia Shahpur Jat Start Delhi 2014 4

The aim of the festival was to also closely work with government bodies to enhance neglected public spaces in order to make them more attractive for use. These included public toilets and garbage collection centres.

Daku Shahpur Jat Start Delhi 2014 1
The Indian graffiti writer DAKU paints the local dumpster with his version of the Louis Vuitton wallpaper with the wordplay 'DA-KU' 'KU-DA' where 'Kuda' is a Hindi word for garbage. This dumpster travels across Delhi to make people realise the beauty in the ugliness of life.
Ano Shahpur Jat Start Delhi 2014 1
Ano at Sulabh toilet at Shahpur Jat. ANO (Taiwan) spent a good few hours, first cleaning this public toilet from the outside, before painting his ravens's on it. ANO's piece in Shahpujat depicts a pixelated dynamite explosion through the crows. This has been done on the wall of a community dumpster. He awed a lot of kids around the site and gathered large crowds. A photo session followed right after!

Some pieces came about as a result of interaction between the artists and the locals. One such piece happened with Bond- a graffiti writer who played one of the most instrumental roles in bringing together the graffiti scene in Delhi. While painting a smaller piece, he met a young kid whose uncle owned a school in Shahpur Jat,one thing led to another, and Bond ended up painting the alphabet in his style inside the school for the children to see and learn from.

Do Khatra Shahpur Jat Start Delhi 2014 1
‘Ye jo halka halka suroor hai’ painted by the Indian artistic duo- Do & Khatra was a tribute to the musical legacy of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Do & Khatra initially worked as volunteers and in the production crew, and at the end of the festival did this improvisational piece. Then, students of MSU Baroda, this was their first wall, and they have since gone on to paint several notable murals in various parts of the country.
‘Voodoo woman’ by Sergio (Brazil). Sergio's style can be recognized with Brazilian characters, strong features and striking lines. His piece in Shahpur Jat is made with the intent of empowering women, framing them in the environments in which they belong. In this case, the woman proudly wears a pink Sari carrying yarn and needles.

Not everyone will get it, but there is a message of empowering women - giving them respect and security. They should be free, you know.

- Sergio,artist

Tones (Taiwan) is a prolific graffiti writer of the traditional New York Style. His specificity is to make letters dance through connections, funk and flow while respecting the New York school codes.

Here he picks up characters from the Indian streets, a turban man and an auto which are inherently typical of New Delhi.
Another specific feature of his work is to brighten letters up by fusing comic book illustrations, with the use of vibrant colours.

Indian artist Amitabh Kumar has made a habit of challenging himself with every wall he does. In Shahpur Jat he decided to do something he had never done before - use colour in his piece. Looking at his wall from ground level which was on the 4th floor of a building which faces a rare open space within Shahpur Jat, he decided to paint a cloud for everyone to see.

Amitabh Shahpur Jat Start Delhi 2014 4
Amitabh Kumar's 'Too Tampoo Tampagne' is an experiment with layering of colours. He provides the mundane, dilapidated setting of the village with a seemingly floating cloud of colourful mesh.

Other than the invited artists, several other artists joined the festival and started adding their works to Shahpur Jat spreading the work through the entire neighbourhood.

PCO Shahpur Jat Start Delhi 2014 1
UFO Crew
Sam Sam SJ Start Delhi 2014
Sam Sam
Untitled Ruchin Soni 1
Ruchin Soni
Revathomas shahpurjat
Reva Thomas

Since, 2014 a lot in Shahpur Jat has changed. With the overall development of the city, and stronger municipal control - buildings have been built and razed down. Hence, not all artworks exist now. But as is the case with street art, and life, nothing everything is permanent - some of it stays, while some of it lives on in our memories (and in photographs).