Over the past few years, the vibrant MS Maqtha neighbourhood has evolved into an art district. The Urban Art Festival — St+Art Foundation’s initiative in this locality — has transformed the working-class enclaves into a mural-rich basti. Creative artwork done by different artists is all over the walls of buildings, homes and its sidewalks. St+Art Foundation’s assistant curator Karan Kaul is bowled over by the vibrant and interactive community and calls Maqtha, a perfect playground for artists. “It is a completely different neighbourhood. We work with the community and love to create art that is site specific. Finding a balance to integrate, see what the artist has to offer to what the community already has is not an easy thing to achieve but we work towards it.”
The art festival that usually takes place in December had to be postponed this year due to elections. This edition has three artists Manola Mesa (Spain), Rouge (France) and Ness Lee (Canada) showcase their works. There are plans to hold a bigger festival by the end of November.
“The heat was harsh but was not unbearable;I was expecting worse,” says artist Rouge standing under a shade to protect herself from the afternoon sun. Dressed in a denim shirt, blue leggings, a nose ring and green buttalu dangling from her ears, Rouge arrived in Hyderabad in the third week of March but did not touch her painting brush for a week. She simply went around the city and Maqtha neighbourhood. People let her into their homes and hearts and she also met several women who were surrounded by many fabrics. “I felt that clothing has so much importance over here. They are draped and fully covered, but it is also empowering for women to be able to play with so many nice and beautiful fabrics. On the other hand, it seems like a patriarchal society and I was interested in the paradox that you can create,” she states.
For six days, Rouge and her assistant Killion Hercovet with the help of a crane (“I loved going up in the sky”), went on top of a building to convert a 10 ft-high wall into a huge evocative mural. Her work on the imagery of hands gestures resembles a pile of drapery and fabrics put together in a composition. With an intent to work in the colours that women wear in the neighbourhood, she used a blend of colours ranging from vibrant reds and yellows to earthy browns; subtle designs on a border can also be seen. In the process of creation, she also draped a sari around herself, let it drop on the floor and tried to recreate that form on the wall. “It is a narrative; it is a story about how to represent a body without having the body presence. I wanted to be attentive and also respectful of the community here.”
Of nature and community
It’s 1 pm and the temperature records 41 degrees at People’s Plaza as artist Ness Lee raps away. It is Day 4 of her 10-day project. She twists and turns to the rap music playing on the mobile and climbs a ladder and then on a scaffolding plank to paint the wall to depict nature and community. “We depict nature as the white water mountains and trees that make our landscapes. People also make our landscape. I find in a lot of communities, women are the backbone and they make sure we are comfortable. We see walls everyday, we live and breathe with them. I wanted to make sure that community also feels good about it,” she shares.
She starts painting in the afternoon when there is shade and continues till 8 pm. A group of volunteers also paint with her even as curious passers-by look on. She enjoys street art as the stories told through art differ. “Painting walls depend on communities who live there. The art depends on their feelings, even on politics. The art on the wall has to make them happy. Some communities even want the animals to be painted. In Maqtha , religion is a way of life and we have to check what they are comfortable with and proceed.” After this, Ness heads back to another festival in Canada.