Recently, I took my first Sunday off from work at Kulture Shop, the art and lifestyle brand representing the top Indian graphic artists from around the world. We’re based in Bandra – the Brooklyn of Bombay, as I like to call it. I decided I would go down to Colaba in South Mumbai to paste up “the Pink Lady” as she’s referred to by so many on the streets. At Kulture Shop this artwork goes by the name of Don’t Mess With Me.
I created this piece after the December 2012 gang rape in Delhi that eventually took the life of the victim. This incident triggered immense outrage across India where thousands of protestors took to the streets and cried out for justice. Some fought with the police. Others demanded the government provide more adequate security for women. I saw a lot of woman shouting into news cameras reacting to opinions shared by conservatives, “We’re not taking this anymore! And no one can tell us to stay home or tell us what we should be wearing!” The Pink Lady honours the life of the victim who was given the name Nirbhaya (meaning Fearless) to protect her identity. The Pink Lady also represents those female protestors who said they were tired of being treated like crap by society and the government, hence the artwork title Don’t Mess With Me. Today, I occasionally paste the Pink Lady in different spots throughout Mumbai.
I specifically chose Colaba that day to help a photographer who was to shoot my shortlist of five often-missed street art pieces in Mumbai. On the top of my list was the piece Os Gemeos painted off Colaba Causeway. Concerned that the photographer may not find this now fading piece, I told him I’d paste the Pink Lady next to it a day before he’d reach the area. Os Gemeos means “the twins” in Portuguese. Together these twin brothers (Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo) hailing from Sao Paulo, Brazil are the world’s most famous street art duo. I had already decided I would paste a double version of the Pink Lady as a small nod to the brothers.
While pasting up the Pink Ladies, I looked back at the day I was driving up Marine Drive in 2010 when my eye caught a glimpse of something familiar as my cab whizzed by a shed in a field. Having just moved to Mumbai a month earlier, I asked myself, “Was that an Os Gemeos piece?” A few weeks later, I took a camera and went back to that specific spot where this shed stood near the Mumbai Police Gymkhana. And sure enough I was standing in front of Mumbai’s best street art.
I walked behind the shed and found another piece, hidden to thousands of people who walk and drive down Marine Drive every day. Os Gemeos had visited Mumbai in 2008, leaving behind a few works of art that I considered to be a true gift to the city.
After shooting these pieces, I was getting back in the cab when a security guard came rushing toward me. He wanted me to hand over the camera. I rolled up my window and told the cabbie to step on the accelerator. We were gone within in seconds. The rush was amazing. It took me a few seconds to settle into my seat while I looked through the images on the camera. I wish I had taken a photo of the security guard’s face in my window to commemorate this glorious moment. I was happy to see that this art was being valued by some authority whom the security guard was working for. A couple of years later, I came to realise my assumptions were wrong. In 2013, I saw this shed was painted over with white paint leaving no trace or hint that the Masters of street art were even there.
What should’ve been preserved, got painted over. Street art isn’t always meant to be permanent, I know. In many interviews, I’ve said this is what makes street art somewhat romantic. When you fall in love with a piece, you feel the hurt when it’s gone. Is it time for Mumbai to have a street art minister? If it is, I hope Mumbai-ites will vote for me.
I’ve wondered before if I’m amongst a handful of people who have images of these artworks. Last week I decided to get in touch with Abhay Maskara who was sure to have a few more. Abhay is the owner and curatorial director of one of Mumbai’s coolest galleries, Gallery Maskara which unfortunately is shutting down this month. In 2008 he invited Brazilian artist Nina Pandolfo to his gallery to exhibit her work. Along came her husband Otavio Pandolfo of Os Gemeos.
Photo Athul Prasad/ LBB Mumbai
It was really awesome to find these images in a mail from Abhay after years of only knowing what these pieces looked like post the wear and tear caused by Mumbai’s environmental elements.
I was hoping Abhay would be able to include some images with Otavio painting away. Here he is on 3rd Pasta lane a few meters away from Gallery Maskara.
Here’s Nina and Otavio working on the shed on Marine Drive.
When I first met Abhay at his gallery a couple of years ago, I asked him how many pieces Os Gemeos (Otavio) had painted on the street. He verified there were three locations. The shed on Marine Drive (check!), the wall near his gallery (check!) and the wall that was never completed after they were hauled to the police station (uncheck). Here’s a look at that wall I never got to see in person. It was whited over soon after Octavio was told to put down his brush.