KOCHI: S/he might be a lone artist squandering on the streets of Fort Kochi or may be no artist at all. You might never know all your life, though s/he may have sat next to you while watching fishing nets go up and down at Fort Kochi beach.
‘Guesswho’ is an enigma. He come out from his blackhole of anonymity every Biennale season. And, then paints the walls with graffiti that get extremely popular within a day or two - whether it’s the trinity in carnatic music re-imagined with Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson or the exchange of Sree Narayana guru and Shankaracharya’s head with Marx and Engels.
S/he illustrated Shikari Shambu puckering up with Shupandi. With an exhortation to ‘Kiss ‘em all’, the underlying take on contemporary ‘Kiss of Love’ social movement is clear.
Is s/he one or many ? Male or Female ? Under assurance that we don’t reveal the identity, ‘Guesswho’ agreed to speak to ‘City Express’ via online. Here’s everything you need to know about the elusive artist, minus the details of the identity.
Tell us a bit about the responses you receive for your art works ..both from online and offline world?
Online responses have been surprisingly overwhelming and there’s no way to know the offline responses unless you see people’s reaction on the spot. Many of the works have already been removed or destroyed. But then, that’s also considered as a part of the responses.
Don’t you walk to the spot to see people’s reactions after you do that at night ? Or you flee once the graffiti is done.?
Once it is done, you are done with that. It’s up to the people if they want to accept it or throw it away.
You club south Indian icons with western ones. Are you doing it for fun or is there any meaning invested in it?
If you are some one who follows street art practices across the globe, you would know that re-imagining popular and iconic images is not really a new tradition in street art. But to use it with imageries which are relatable to local culture is the key here. Such familiar images will helps and assures recognizability and thus accessibility, while simultaneously making a playful comment about the social realities and street art’s place within it.
Yes, it is fun doing it, but there’s also an effort behind it. Nevertheless Guess who doesn’t expect people to take it’s art very seriously.
How long you have been in Kerala ? I know you don’t want to reveal your identity but you seems to know the local culture so deeply?
Tell me about how ‘GuessWho’ evolved ? Did you pull the trigger after any inspiration (Banksy, perhaps. Or any local heroes) ?
Our exposure to the various art practices is very limited. Even today most of the art that we see are meant to produce just decorative ornaments. A medium like graffiti can play a significant role in the cultural landscape and consciousness of a city. But at the same time there’s no point just painting pussy cats, rainbows, and pots with flowers on the walls. How do we address it? That is where the concept originated.
Secondly, we were used to art exhibitions in which art works are always kept at a distance and the viewer was never allowed to touch it or photograph it. Obviously not many people went to see such art exhibitions. Attempts like Biennale changed it to some extend. Viewer was invited to touch, feel and at times become a part of the art works. But graffiti takes it a step further. The viewer can change, draw over it, or even destroy it completely if she/he doesn’t like it. (in fact most of Guesswho’s work has already been destroyed by now) It is right on your face. It belongs to the viewer. That was something very fascinating about graffiti. The vital facet of rebellion and subversion related to the art has also been a very exciting inspiration. There are influences from many graffiti artists, Banksy of course is on top of the list.
How do you select topics ?
Selecting the topics were very crucial, because it has to be simple and visually familiar subjects, and always had some local flavor to it only then it communicates to the passer by on the street.
When do you work ?
Any graffiti artist who doesn’t wait for permission has to wait till the roads get empty.
What are the materials you use ?
Mainly use the wheat paste technique, which is a very common technique among many street artists because it’s faster and cheaper.
How do you go about doing it ? The readers might be interested to know the background scenes behind these elusive artworks
In terms of style, it was again a conscious decision to have an illustration appeal to it because Keralites mostly identify and associate art with the illustrations that they are used to in the popular weeklys.
You like Biennale but you are not part of it. Would you like to be featured in Biennale ? If no, why ?
Biennale is an organised structure, It has a curator, it often follows the practice of categorising art according to genres and assessing its ‘quality’ and also it has a reputation to live up to. Like any mainstream art establishments it will have the concept of certain ‘Gallery standards’. Guesswho doesn’t fit into any of these. Moreover establishments like Biennale mainly addresses to only a certain segment of people for whom these graffiti may not appeal.
Why this anonymity ? We do want to listen to your thoughts on it. Also, how many people already asked you this question?
That’s the first question everyone wants to ask. Apart from what have already been said, anonymity or having a different identity could be a refreshing way of looking at things. One can choose to have different or multiple personalities at the same time. It is like an avatar. This avatar may not reflect the other side of the artist’s personality, or even could be a completely opposite side of it. No body knew for a long time Burial and Four Tet were the same guy who made two different types of music under different names. But people did enjoy both.
Your future plans ?
Would probably explore more cities. Trivandrum during the IFFK is a very tempting venue to be explored. Let’s see. Also there could be more surprises for Kochi as the Biennale progresses. Stay tuned
Heard you are going to be more political. Can you be specific ? Do you subscribe to any political ideology ? If yes, why ? If no, why ?
Though the term ‘politics’ usually infers party politics, it has far deeper meanings today signifying many aspects of our lives and social issues. When we say politics it is more towards personal politics, an individual awareness and concern on social issues, a sense of responsibility to self as well as the society. It is about using the visual language as a tool for expression, a mean of speaking out and being heard. It could be a critique, a perspective, sometimes also a provocation.
Before bidding adieu, ‘Guesswho’ pointed out something interesting.
“You may recall the protest marches when someone poured black paint over a street portrait by Daniel Connell two years back. ‘Guesswho’ did a work on the same wall (didn’t wait for any permission of course) a couple of days back (Kiss ‘em all) and it has been completely white washed as we speak now. No one condemned it.’’