NEW DELHI: Looks of Skepticism, dismissive glares, disparaging sniggers… the freshly painted mural on the SDMC Community Waste Collection Centre in Nehru Place, got it all the day it was introduced to the public. A little while after, we met Gargi Chandola and Yaman Navlakha, the artists who envisaged the massive art piece with a giant mermaid caught between a plastic of all kinds—bottle, polythene, ear bud, straw, tooth brushes, among other waste materials. The irony is that the mural was ignored in the same way environment causes have been disregarded for decades. The silver lining was seen only in the subsequent days when we re-visited the site to watch passersbys taking notice and more importantly, cognizance of the perils of plastic chocking our marine life.
Executed on the otherwise dirty and rather fetid wall of the grimy garbage site, the striking hues of the mural stand out in support of banning plastic use. The finishing touches were given on World Environment Day on June 5. The artists leveraged the topicality of the subject to their advantage and got a poignant visual readied. “It juxtaposes the beauty of our oceans with the hazardous plastic being dumped unprecedentedly. It shows how creatures get stuck in them and some even die,” says Chandola.
She points out to the tragic picture of a seahorse holding a Q-tip in the waters of Indonesia, that shows lucidly the severity of the matter. The same picture has found an interpretation in the mural as well.
Chandola and Navlakha’s art comes with a a-typical mermaid with distinctive Indian motifs that Chandola has developed over the eyars. It’s her characteristic style of art. “I have study a lot of miniature and folk art and these have were imagined out of all that study,” she says smiling.
She and Navlakha moved on from their jobs to start Post-Art Project, a multi- disciplinary arts company, in 2016. While Chandola worked as a communication designer, Navlakha worked as a photographer, film-maker and musician. “Work had become terribly monotonous and there was little pleasure that could be sought from it. Since we were assisting each other anyway, we decided to open our own firm,” says Navlakha, who considers himself fortunate to have been able to take this decision given that several other generations, didn’t have much of a choice. “They were more oriented towards stability while taking care of family,” he says. Whereas we didn’t calculate anything and just took the plunge,” he says.
As a team they’ve worked on several projects in the past. It was looking at their body of work that someone from the Ministry of Urban Development (GOI) project under the Hriday Scheme commissioned mural work in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
On one of the walls they worked on in Varanasi, is a scene of a forested playground with children engaged in playing and exercising outdoors were painted. “We started our project with this wall, situated directly in front of the Pisachmochan Kund Pandas, where people come from all over the country to perform pind daan in tribute to family members who have passed on. Over the days, we became acquainted with the priests and locals who kept us on our toes with their questions and critique,” says Navlakha.
At Wankhandi, Lord Shiva is seen showering his blessings upon devotees. The painting is influenced by miniature art. Public art has given the couple a lot of visibility over the last year. Messages through their painting is easily and widely disseminated.
Nonetheless, like all public art, their’s too is always at risk of facing vandalism. In the past, some of their paintings have been spat on too. But the two of them simply wipe them clean and get back to painting. “One does get disturbed but we’ve also seen people willing to become stakeholders,” says Navlakha.
One wall at a time, the couple is leading by example in this activism through art.