Artists or miscreants? Anonymous graffiti in Kochi raises palette of questions

While some people believe it to be the handiwork of Banksy fans, police remain clueless.
Graffiti painted on a telephone exchange box near Fort Kochi police station
Graffiti painted on a telephone exchange box near Fort Kochi police station Photo | Akhil K S

KOCHI: After a brief lull, baffling graffiti has resurfaced in various parts of Kochi, fuelling speculation and stoking panic. If it were mainly the words ‘Burn Play’ and ‘First Hit Kochi’ that were spray-painted on Kochi Metro coaches back in May 2022, this time the word ‘Sick’ and a crown-like image have popped up at a number of localities, painted mainly on signboards and telephone exchange boxes.

Theories are being bandied about the pseudonymous artists, or rather miscreants, responsible for the activity. A section even believes that it is the handiwork of admirers of Bristol-based anonymous street artist Banksy.

“Several public properties have been defaced. We suspect the acts were carried out overnight, by dodging CCTV cameras. The same has resulted in panic among people. The municipality has filed a complaint with Maradu police. The cops should unravel the mystery,” Maradu municipality chairman Antony Ashanparambil told TNIE.

The complaint mentions the locations within the municipality where such graffiti has appeared. These include the welcome board near Kannadikadu bridge, the NH entry portion from Thomaspuram, and the Ward 3 areas.

A telephone exchange box with graffiti near Kundannoor
A telephone exchange box with graffiti near Kundannoor Photo | Akhil KS

“We received videos of similar graffiti work in the UK and there are striking similarities, especially the crown. We demand the immediate intervention of cops and the initiation of legal action against those behind the defacing,” Antony said. Some have termed the graffiti as creative art. However, in an e-mail communication, a Kochi-based pseudonymous artist, who goes by the name Guesswho, questioned the ‘Banksy fan’ theory.

“Graffiti and street art are two different forms of art. Graffiti is just writing your name on public walls without permission. Street art could be both commissioned or uncommissioned. What Banksy does is predominantly uncommissioned stencils. How many people in Kochi do you know who make uncommissioned stencils? Vandalising the clean-looking streets and buildings of London or any European cities is entirely different from drawing a picture or writing your name on the visually polluted streets in our country,” Guesswho, who is believed to be behind several anonymous graffiti in the Fort Kochi area several years back, said in his e-mail.

On the motive behind serious street art, Guesswho says it’s nothing more than making art in public spaces that are accessible to anyone free of cost. And on whether acts noticed in Kochi amount to vandalism, he said, “It is. Public spaces belong to everyone. But how often have you asked this question to corporates, political parties, religious organisations, and filmmakers who have been bombarding public spaces with their advertising? Which one would you call the worst form of vandalism? Drawing a picture of public spaces for the public or the above-mentioned people using public spaces to sell themselves and their products??”

Similarly, Trespassers, an art collective based in Kochi, said graffiti is a sarcastic and artistic way of expressing opinions freely and openly.

“Such works lead to discussions precisely because of their anonymity and partial illegality. It should be seen only as a spontaneous response and nothing more,” opined Vishnu Priyan, an active member.  

While cops suspected the role of Rail Hoons, a global network of graffiti artists who defaced trains and other public spaces, in the 2022 incident, this time they are clueless. “We’ve received written complaints about the anonymous graffiti at stations like Maradu and Palarivattom. But we’re yet to get any clue despite examining CCTV footage at many localities,” an officer with the special branch said.

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