Exploring Street Art in Shahpur Jat

Even the birds run for cover

All is set for the trilateral rooftop terrace fitness therapy to take place this evening. But the weather doesn’t fit our party schedule.

bird taking cover

Street Art in Delhi

A house (!) full of street (!) art and art lovers – an unmistakable sign that gentrification and hipster culture is making it’s way into Delhi. Nonetheless: the talks by the artists were very inspiring. All in all, the creators of St.ART Delhi did quite a lot to colour up the city.

Snowboarding in Gulmarg

We were greeted by incredible powder, when my cousin, her boyfriend and I reached Gulmarg, which is considered to be one of the best ski resorts in the Himalayas.

We plunged into the deep snow, skidded around, walked through the small village, looked up into the sky for a sign of weather change – and had innumerable snowflakes fallen on our faces.

The second day, we rented snowboards. Because there actually was too much snow – 1,5 meter of fresh powder, I would say – the gondola remained closed. So we hired a guide and a pick-up and ran down through the foggy forest to Babareshi and Tangmarg several times, to be brought up in fun, skiddy rides again. But the whole day, it kept on snowing.

And then, finally, the morning we left, the sun came out. Sigh.

Delhi’s most beautiful park

and what it looks like after a weekend of picnics

and what it looks like after a weekend of picnics

A fake world

A metro ride to Gurgaon, the satellite city of wealthy urban professionals on the southern outskirts of Delhi, is one through the whole spectrum of Indian live.

After leaving the capital, wasteland, scrubland and farmland drift past. Here an occasional hut, there some crater-riddled streets. And then, out of a sudden, gleaming shopping malls, five-star hotels and sprawling golf courses arise from the barren soil. The symbol of newly affluent India.

But the metro is built at such a hight, that behind the towering residential condominiums and the glass and steel office blocks, the beige earth is still visible. If one looks more closely, the unlevelled roads and heaps of garbage lying in the empty housing lots can be seen.

It’s a mostly unplanned city, with underdeveloped infrastructure, not enough water, and electricity – because instead of some proper city development, every investor was allowed to plant whatever he wanted. Most of it looks like: The more shiny, the better.

And in the midst of it is the “Kingdom of Dreams”, where Bollywood-Musicals show an even more dreamlike and escapist world. But the show is so overpowering and infectious, that all other things outside these glittering walls are easily forgotten.

Kingdom of Dreams

Nobody wants a Warhol

India Art Fair - GandhiThe India Art Fair, arguably the largest such fair in the country, showcased over 1000 artists from India and across the world displaying their painting, sculptures, digital art, photography installations and performance art.

I walked around and wanted to know: What kind of art do Indians buy? Who are the potential buyers? And how healty is the art market now after the difficult years since the financial crisis in 2008? Here are the answers:

Michael Tekath, director Galerie Klaus Benden in Cologne, which specialises in Pop Art. They are in Delhi for the first time and hadn’t sold one piece on saturday afternoon:

“People buy a lot – but Indian art. Galeries like ours must be patient. The potential is there, but we must be patient. How long are we going to sustain? Not five years,” Tekath says. But he does see potential, as the situation was similar in Hongkong seven to eight years ago, when everybody, especially the mainland Chinese, bought Chinese art, and now the picture completely changed.

“If Indians are spending 15.000 or 20.000 Euros, they want something big, something colourful, something imposing, and not a print – of which 300 are available.” (referring to the Andy Warhols)

An Indian piece of art, Tekath thinks, has greater value for many Indians than a Warhol, as chances are that you show the Warhol to the guests and they don’t recognise it. “We overshoot it when we brought so much Pop Art with us.”

Damiano Femfert of Die Gallerie, at the fair for the 4th time. He sold one, two are reserved.

“Initially there was hardly any concrete interest. But it grew, and now we have regular customers.” Because people from the upper middle class, like doctors, professors, lawyers, have their specific interests, but don’t have any chance to obtain the work other than at these fairs.

India Art Fair - tyre

Tushar Jiwarajka, founder of Volte Gallery in Mumbai:

“We are doing pretty well, have sold something like 30 percent.” The buyers, he says, are a mix of upper middle class and the really rich. “Thanks to the Christie’s auction (in December, first one in India), more new people are entering the market.”

Carlos Cabral Nunes, Perve Galleries, Lisbon, Portugal, here for the first time, he sold seven paintings, and 14 are reserved.

“I hope to go home without any painting at all.” There was especially high demand for a painting from Raquel Rocha, which is figurative art, composed by patterns of figures – and all the characters in it are making love. “I could have sold this picture ten times,” he said.

On Indians buying Indian art, Nunes thinks: “At the moment they are protecting their own culture, their own way of thinking and being. I don’t know if this will last.”

A female salesperson at Gallery Espace, New Delhi, which sells Indian art and artists of Indian origin:

“Contemporary artists sell very well, even the younger ones.” And: “Sales are better than last year, because the economy is upward looking, so potential buyers are reassured. Maybe the Christie’s auction also had an impact. We hope this is a trend.”

Some of the buyers are younger ones, who want the art for their personal space, the saleswoman explains. The ones in their middle ages see it more as an investment, or to show off. “To let everybody know: I can afford it.” “The market is opening up gradually, beyond Indian artists, but people interested in these are still very few.”

Priya Jhaveri, owner of Jhaveri Contemporar:

“It’s picking up, there is great energy and activity. But it’s not a soaring market.” Galleries should adapt to the local market, she thinks. “We are a young gallery, so prices are sensible, and that is what many young people are looking for.”

India Art Fair - frisking

Kishore Singh, Head, Publication and Exhibition at Delhi Art Gallery:

“We need more events like this. There is not much art in the streets and public places.”

“In the schools, studies are driven by marks. So education in art is seen as a wastage of time, both by the schools and the parents.”

“There is no museum and gallery going culture, and in the schools there is no education in arts. So the images that stay with people are the ones from 100 or 150 years ago, the ones from the prayer rooms, the slightly realistic art.”

As the Indian masters are what Indians know, it’s also what they buy. “We are a young country. You have to give India a little more time to first accept Indian contemporary art and then look outside.”

“Even Indians who went to foreign countries and got to know other schools there, may want to look at it, but won’t necessarily buy this art.” And if they start buying western art, then it will first be the masters, not the contemporary art. “People want familiar names.”

The financial crisis 2008 has impacted many galleries and collectors. Many buyers felt cheated when the prices fell (at least the values of the masters hasn’t slipped very much).

“When you feel a little vulnerable, you buy tangible investments like properties, houses, gold. At the end of the day, these pieces of art a just a piece of paper.”

“Now, prices are moving up again, the interest is picking up. But it still is slow. The faith and confidence has to be won back.”

Jaipur Literature Festival, in quotes

Festival director William Dalrymple: Diggi Palace is packed with people. This shows: Books still matter, authors still matter.

Novelist Jonathan Franzen: “Show, don’t tell,” I was tought in the 70s and 80s. “But it is story telling, not story showing, so I unlearned this idea.”

Franzen: “We are still post-modern, but don’t call ourselves post-modern anymore, we call it post-post-modern.”

Franzen: I don’t know how a book ends when I start it. And so I hope that if I am unsure where it’s going, maybe it feels like a mystery for the reader.

Franzen: “A novelist is a man who every morning goes to his own little world and meets the people he himself created.” Franzen adds that readers never feel alone as they connect to the people in their books.

audience at Jaipur LitFest

Question on the Bollywood Nation panel: “What happened to the angry young man?” Economist and politician Meghnad Desai: “He became Arvind Kejriwal.” He will also solve every problem in twelve hours.

Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan: Sometimes the investment in a film is there, then they get an actor, but there’s no story. The actor demands: I want five action scenes and three songs. And the movie is still a success!

Khan: Some stars basically say: Come to the cinema, get some action sequences, get some songs – and see me.

Desai on social change through films: “They reach out wider and deeper to the audience than any writer or author can.”

Khan: “These are changing times in Indian cinema and society. The audience is maturing, movies are changing.” But often the cinema doesn’t reflect society, it just wants to give you a good time. “Then cinema is like a sleeping pill: chill and relax.”

Vamsee Juluri, professor of media studies and son of Tollywood star Jamuna: This cultural pastime (films) has so much power, that as a child I was often separated from my mother by a wall of fans.

Desai: Nowadays you only need to attach “Khan” to your name to get to the top in Bollywood.

Khan: Most of the stardom is about scaling down people, making them feel lesser.

Vamsee Juluri: Bollywood keeps Gandhi’s ideas alive, more than any politician.

Author Jerry Pinto: “When the government has nothing else to do than watch twitter and facebook these days, I would like to be the government. But shall the twitterati now built roads and run schools?”

Journalist Madhu Trehan: In India, “we don’t like irony, we don’t like the funnies. Just say it as it is, and if you can’t do that, then let it be.”

Director, actor and writer Mahesh Dattani: “One thing we all grew up with is hating woman: We see the man being privilegded and therefore supress the woman in us.” And if the Indians hate anything more than females, it’s the hijras (men in South Asia who adopt feminine gender roles and wear women’s clothing)., “as they defy every aspect of the masculartity we aspire”.


Aditi Maheshwari, director at the publishing house Vani Prakashan: “India may dream in Hindi, speak in Hindi, but it aspires in English.”

Sir David Cannadine, professor of history at Princeton University: In 1910, the majority of the world was ruled by empires, lead by kings and queens, today we have more than 200 republics, most of them democracies, or claim to be. There is no assurance that this will remain to be like this. “The British ruled their empire more than a thousand years, in that light the republics are a very recent phenomenon.”

Another one by Cannadine: “If you asked the British why there are so many Indian restaurants in Britain, most people wouldn’t know the answer.” – “Whereas, if you asked Indians why cricket is the national sports, most knew the answer.”

Art in the Park

We are gaining strength

We might not be the most powerful road users. But we are getting stronger, at least in numbers. Today a fellow Parkour group member told me: He was so inspired by my bicycle riding that he got a bicycle for himself and now pedals to our lessons all the 15 kilometers from East Delhi.

Also acceptance seems to grow. Less and less people frown when I tell them I cycle to work. And as Avikal Somvanshi in an article rightly points out: on the road we are all the same. “Delhi roads are unforgiving to everyone; in fact, they have even upped their cruelty against our holy cows.”

Compared to others on the road, cyclists are actually the gentlest drivers, the ones least prone to fatal accidents, and the fastest during rush hours. Plus they safe fuel for the sake of their wallet and the global health – and they don’t even need a gym.

I also get my regular adrenaline rush through cycling. Today I managed to fling my yoga mat into my spokes and dived through the air before I rolled sideward to get out of the way for my bicycle to land. Nothing happened. But again I felt like I’m still more 13 than 30.

Addition on 25.01.2014: A friend of mine, a lawyer, also bought a bicycle. At least twice a week he rides it to High Court, makes his way through the compound (no vehicles allowed) till the main entrance and locks it onto the staircase. When a senior lawyer complained, my friend asked where the designated bicycle parking area is supposed to be – he is still allowed to chain it there.

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