By Sakhshi Mahajan

“Writing graffiti is about the most honest way you can be an artist. It takes no money to do it, you don’t need an education to understand it and there’s no admission fee.”  Banksy {renowned British street artist}

Graffiti art can be traced back to the Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, and gains understanding into the lifestyle and language of past cultures. For example, Renaissance artists like Michelangelo and Raphael inscribed their names when they entered the Domus Aurea to learn Ancient Roman decorative art. Today though, graffiti or sign painting with the use of spray paints is associated with vandalism because it is created in places without the consent of the owner, and it usually makes social commentary on the state of affairs of a place; it is the epitome of “freedom of expression”. This act of “vandalism” is conducted at wee hours of the morning and most artists will never reveal their actual name because defacement of public property is illegal.

Internationally, there is a marked difference between street art and graffiti art. Graffiti art is associated with ‘name tagging’: wherein the artist spray paints his/her name using stylized signatures.  Street artists on the other hand have a bigger message to give their viewers – their themes may be political, satirical, social and environmental; moreover, they are not only interested in marking their territory on a public wall. Interestingly, in developing countries like India there isn’t too much of a demarcation between the two because

  1. There are spaces and places that can be defined as ‘no man’s land’,
  2. Graffiti and street art are a new phenomena, and most artists start with the former and progress to the latter form, and
  3. The biggest challenge in a complex country like India is making their work “available” for the diversity of people.

One of India’s most well-known graffiti artists, ‘Daku’ has kept all these definitions and terms in mind while creating his visual expression in the city. He claims that the illegality of this art form only helps him create curiosity for his viewers, which range from a chai wala in Purani Dilli to a businessman sitting in his Audi Q7 in South Delhi. It starts from his grafitti name, “Daku” or dacoit, which means “a criminal activity involving robbery by groups of armed bandits”. He adopted this name as a pun on the unlawful aspect of his art form. As traditional Daku’s robbed villages, graffitists “rob walls” without permission and eventually own it because their art defines these walls, making public spaces his own. He usually spray paints in areas, which are ‘no man territories’ or dilapidated walls/buildings.

“I would not do graffiti in a metro station or a metro train as it is a symbol of progress. As graffiti is associated with vandalism, I would not want people looking at me/my work in a negative way” Daku

Daku was a sign painter in Gujarat, and studied typography in Art College; transitioning to graffiti art was not too difficult for him and it gave him a chance to create “larger than life signs.”  There are different graffiti styles all over the world; some fonts are also coined after an artist’s individual style. Some common styles are “throwup”, “wild style” and “bubble style”. {For more information, check out http://www.fatcap.com/graffiti-styles.html}. Interestingly, his style is a result of his fascination with typography combined with his urge to make his graffiti legible to all kinds of people in our country; he has done graffiti in English, Devnagiri, and also Urdu in parts of Purani Dilli to connect with a larger audiences. Daku’s aim is to make his work visible, and be a true public art form so as to “make people think.” One of his political works was a wall painting in ITO of a blindfolded protester, with the painted subtext, ‘Blind Nation,’ to comment on “the various protestors who joined Anna Hazare’s movement without understanding what the Lokpal Bill is about or how the system really works”.

“The Art we look at is made by only a select few. A small group creates, promote, purchase, exhibit and decide the success of Art. Only a few hundred people in the world have any real say. When you go to an art gallery you are simply a tourist looking at the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires…” Banksy

In my opinion, graffiti falls under the category of Public Art, which is intended to be created and displayed for all and hence is showcased in a “physical public domain” that is accessible to all. Governments all over the world are playing a huge role to initiate more public art projects. The noteworthy thing about street art in Delhi is that it beautifies the community at no cost and also appears in spaces that would normally be eyesores in our community: a dilapidated wall, an abandoned building or a broken bench.

The most surprising thing about graffiti art in India is that it costs Rs. 250 per can of paint, and an artist spends between Rs. 1000- 1500 on paint every session. Daku stated, that when graffitists have been caught in the “act,” cops have gone to the extent of asking for Rs. 50,000 per person {as bribe}, as they are fully aware of these expenses. Daku does graffiti with a group of regulars that include a 45-year-old, a few 15-year-old kids who get dropped off and picked up by their parents, and a couple of professionals who love this form of art. From these statistics, it is evident that graffiti is a rich person’s hobby in India, which is contradictory to graffiti culture in other parts of the world.

Recently, Daku also created some work in Khirki extension on a wall beside a garbage dump, where he painted a Louis Vuitton wall paper {using its monographs} and played around with syllables of his pseudonym in a way that “Daku” could also be read as “Kuda” {garbage}. He was trying to comment on the disparity between the rich and poor in our country.

Besides doing graffiti with people in India, the graffiti artists have a strong nexus via social networking sites like www.streetfiles.org, where they share and exchange their works and ideas. In 2008, he also collaborated with the German artist, ‘Bond’ to do graffiti in parts of Delhi, including Malviya Nagar and Hauz Khas.

A graffitist like Daku has created enough buzz in the NCR region and his work has become a sort of Imaginarium, “a place devoted to the imagination”[1]. A three-wheeler driver was overheard saying “Daku ek gang ka naam hain, jab bhi yahaan chori hoti hain woh apna naam deewar par likh detein hain {Daku is a gang’s name, whenever they carry out a theft in the neighborhood, they make it a point to let people know they were in the vicinity by spray painting their name on the wall}”. People make up characters and stories about graffitists and their work and this makes the “act” even more exciting for Daku and his contemporaries. The pseudonymity of the artist adds this element of curiosity for the viewers and the truth is…

 “Once the world knows who Banksy is the GAME is OVER!!” Daku, on Banksy

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[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imaginarium

Tell Us What You Think

Greg Acuna says:

Anyone know how to contact Daku? We’re looking for a graffiti artist for a project.

mike says:

hi sakshi i want 2 do these kind of graffiti

Mac says:

hi m ma 4 guwahati.. i m a street artist n would love 2 knw abt daku.. n his art wrk in delhi..

Navdha says:

Hi Sakhshi,
is it possible to know the exact locations of Daku’s works? Would love to go see them in person.

Thanks.