Socio-Spatial Context of Urban Art in the Realm of Delhi

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Before I dive into the introduction to the dissertation, I want to announce my subject matter through my response to 6 critical questions written below.

  1. What do I want to study?

I want to study the modern day phenomenon that is street art from a socio-spatial perspective in the urban realm of Delhi. I will consider street art to include (in order of importance to my dissertation):

  • Graffiti
  • Public art installations
  • Traditional sculptures and statues situated in the public zone

2. Why is it important to know about this topic?

Street art has had a tremendous impact on the lives of people, consciously or sub-consciously. It has acted as the voice of the oppressed and oppressors both. It will continue to play an important role in spreading propaganda. It will also continue to evolve into more forms of an artistic expression. Hence we need to expand our understanding upon this topic to predict what the future of street art is going to be.

3. How is this work situated in relation to my prior work?

I have experience in street art as I have done graffiti for art festivals. I had also planned collaborative street event with some friends to showcase HIP HOP in the streets of Hauz Khas village. Four elements of HIP HOP include: DJ, Graffiti, MC and break dance. Although It dint work out because of commitment issues, a senior (SPA pass-out) of mine, who was to be the DJ in my project, managed to execute my initiative. I believe my previous experience with graffiti makes me a good candidate to deliberate upon this topic. Also, I have an innate interest in mass psychology (behavioral in particular).

4. What methods will I use to conduct this research?

The secondary mode of study is of chief importance since the research focuses on the behavioral psychological impact public art has on the. The situational context of the secondary survey is worldwide, helping to understand the impact of urban art at a holistic level. I will identify socio-spatial parameters from the secondary case studies.

3 books have been selected which talk about public art as a concept, graffiti and installation art respectively.

1.Finkelpearl, T, & Acconci, V, 2001. Dialogues in Public Art. 2nd ed. Massachusetts: First MIT

2.Ganz, N., & Manco, T, 2004. Graffiti world: street art from five continents. New York, H.N. Abrams.

3.Bishop, C, 2005. Installation Art. 1st ed. (unknown) Routledge.

Based on the parameters derived from the secondary study, namely socio –spatial elements of street art, 3 primary researches will be conducted. A three pronged Interview of urban artists, the designers of the space and the people who experience their art will be conducted for each primary case study. The condition where the designers have prompted art in their creation will also be analyzed.

5. What will it produce?

This opportunity will hopefully produce an insight into the way the built, in this case, the graffiti and the installation art have an impact on the social sphere of life.

6. Research question

What are the socio-spatial characters of street art in the urban realm of Delhi?

The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web.

-Pablo Picasso

Graffiti has existed in one form or the other since the dawn of time. From cave paintings to Nazi propagandas, it has been a steady observer and instructor to the human civilization. The modern day graffiti has its roots in the 80’s. It has morphed itself from being a tool of expression for the oppressed and oppressors alike into a thriving art form part of the hip hop culture of today. In recent years graffiti has grown bolder, more ornate, more sophisticated and, in many cases, more acceptable. Yet unsanctioned public art remains the problem child of cultural expression, the last outlaw of visual disciplines. Even though it is still not entirely welcomed and respected yet, it has gained popularity and acceptance in the younger generation of today.

Graffiti as a form of art has branched itself into other forms of contemporary art such as installation art, urban art, guerrilla art, post-graffiti, neo graffiti. It is engrained in the culture of today. The graffiti of the 80s is morphing and evolving into a wide array of bizarre and fascinating concepts such as Möbius, created by art and design firm Eness for the city of Melbourne, Australia. It is a kinetic sculpture whose movement is undetectable by the naked eye — the only way to see it move is via time-lapse video.

The emergence of installation art as part of graffiti and as a separate entity in itself is quite an interesting development. Graffiti today has embraced the mode of installation art, art which has a 3rd dimension to it. As opposed to the 2 dimensional old school graffiti, this new exploration in the 3rd dimension is taking the art form to unseen and previously unimaginable heights.

The urban artist is the receptacle whose art is in response to emotions given out by the social order of the city. Going a full circle, the social order of our lives also acts as the receptacle which absorbs all the emotion urban art emanates.

For my literature referrals, I have decided to classify my reads into 3 categories:

  1. Generic public art
  2. Graffiti
  3. Public installation art

Knight (2011) defines as art in any media that has been planned and executed with the intention of being staged in the physical public domain, usually outside and accessible to all. He also suggests public art may include any art which is exhibited in a public space including publicly accessible buildings, but often it is not that simple. Rather, the relationship between the content and audience, what the art is saying and to whom, is just as important if not more important than its physical location.

Finkelpearl (2009) conducts interviews of a wide range of artists, bureaucrats, and others whose lives have been affected by these projects in the North American context. He tells the story of a selected group of public art projects through these interviews. I think this book raises a set of critical set of issues from an unusually broad set of perspectives. From an artist who mounted three bronze sculptures in the South Bronx to the bureaucrat who led the fight to have them removed; from an artist who describes his work as a "cancer" on architecture to a pair of architects who might agree with him; from an artist who formed a coalition to convert twenty-two derelict row houses into an art center/community revitalization project to a young woman who got her life back on track while living in one of the converted houses.

The class contradictions inherent in the term “public art” have been addressed by Finkelpearl (2009) by bringing different sorts of people into contact in creative ways. He also provides a concise overview of changing attitudes toward the city as the site of public art.

In the book Dialogues in public art by Finkelpearl, the twenty interviews are divided into four parts:

  • Controversies in Public Art: This part focuses projects that are met with significant controversy. Richard Serra’s tilted arc, John Ahearn’s three bronzes in the South Bronx, Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and Welcome to America’s finest Tourist Plantation by David Avalos, Louis Hock and Elizabeth Sisco. The interviews discuss how some of the controversies were welcomed as part of the project and how the changes and/or removal of the controversial works of art have shed new light on the nature of the project and its relationship with its audience.
  • Experiments in Public Art as Architecture and Urban Planning: The series of interviews in this portion discuss one of the directions that public art took in the wake of the controversies that move away from traditional definitions of art towards landscape design, architecture and planning. This section begins with an interview with architects Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, in which they discuss their uneasiness in the imposition of art in the public design process. Sculptor Vito Acconci talks about how he has managed to infiltrate architectural design in his artistic practice. Michael Singer and Linnea Glatt discuss their design of the solid waste management facility in Phoenix, Arizona, while Ron Jensen, the former Director of Public Works for Phoenix, discusses the process that led him to hire two artists with little architectural background to be the lead designers on a multimillion dollar facility. The solid waste management facility is one of the few instances where the design and planning decisions in a public building were made by artists. Finally, Rick Lowe and Assata Shakur tell the story of Project Row houses, an art project that transformed twenty-two derelict shotgun-style houses into a contemporary art exhibition space, housing for single mothers and a community center. Rick Lowe is an artist whose work moved from the realm of architectural sculpture to urban design, while Assata Shakur is a former resident in project ro houes’ young mothers residential program and a graduate student in sociology at Penn State University.
  • Dialogues on Dialogue-Based Public Art Projects: This series of interviews focuses on public art that makes dialogue and essential element of the work itself. This is a very interesting aspect to public art projects. The more dialogue the work of art creates with its viewers, the more remarkable and successful it is.
  • Public Art for Public Health: This section focuses on the Revival Fields and the AIDS ribbon. Artist Mel Chin and Dr. Rufus Chaney of the United States Department of Agriculture separately discuss Revival Field, an art and science collaboration that seeks to cleanse toxic waste sites using “green remediation”. The book concludes with two interviews about the AIDS ribbon: Artist Frank Moore discusses how he helped initiate the ribbon, and Jackie Mclean describes how she worked on the production of the ribbon at a women’s shelter while a member of the artists and homeless collaborative.

The second and the third series of interviews are the ones I would like to pick up as secondary case studies.

Knight C.K (2011) takes a look at public art and its populist appeal, offering a more inclusive guide to America's creative tastes and shared culture. He examines the history of American public art – from FDR's New Deal to Christo'sThe Gates– and challenges preconceived notions of public art, expanding its definition to include a broader scope of works and concepts such as Boston's Big Dig, Las Vegas' . Treasure Island and Disney World.

In his book titled Public Art: Theory, Practice and Populism, he offers an alternative to the traditional view and criticism surrounding public art.

Chapterization of the book is as follows:

  1. Introduction: A short History of the United States “Official” Public Art
    1. Roosevelt’s New Deal
    2. General Services Administrarion’s Art-in-public-places program
    3. National endowment for arts’ Art-in-public-places-program
  2. Conventional Wisdom: Populist intentions within established Paradigms
    1. Art as monument Art as memorial
    2. Art as amenity
    3. Art in the Park, Art as the Park
    4. Art as the Agora
    5. Art as Pilgrimage
  3. Culture to go: From art world to the world
    1. What museums do for us
    2. My museum
    3. Education, Outreach, Programming
    4. The alternative museum
  4. Not quite “art”, not quite “public”:
    1. The art of entertainment
    2. This is special, I am special
    3. Open pocketbook, open agenda?
    4. Embracing spectacle
  5. Super viewer: Increasing individual
    1. Power to the people
    2. Claiming space and place
    3. Dig in
  6. Conclusion: Art for all?
    1. The trouble with (Re)Development
    2. Nonprofits and the ephemeral idyll
    3. Back to school
    4. Grieving loss, remembering life
    5. Two tales in one city

Knight C.K (2011, Chapter 2) offers insights on the populist intentions of art within the established paradigms by talking about art and its parameters of design. I hope to absorb what the chapter has to offer. Through it I hope to understand what public art is at a deeper level of understanding. I hope to understand what the aesthetic sense of the art should be, whom should it be directed to? Is it meant for the public? If yes, then does it mean the artwork should transcend the artist’s private or aesthetic concerns? These are the topics the book has talked about. Knight C.K (2011, Chapter 5) talks about whether the viewers’increaedagency to determine the levels of engagement in art and merits of their own art expriences should be intentional or not.

Miles M. (2005) treats public art as a social process and in the urban context. He talks about public art outside the normal confines of art criticism and places it within broader contexts of public space and gender. He further goes on to explore the making, management and mediation of art outside its conventional location in museums and galleries, and the livable city - a concept involving user-centred strategies for urban planning and design. Using different perspectives, he explores both the aesthetic and political aspects of the medium.

Miles M. (2005) applies a range of critical perspectives which have emerged from different disciplines - art criticism, urban design, urban sociology, geography and critical theory - to examine the practice of art for urban public spaces, seeing public art from positions outside those of the art world to ask how it might contribute to possible urban futures.

Exploring the diversity of urban politics, the functions of public space and its relation to the structures of power, the roles of professionals and users in the construction of the city, the gendering of space and the ways in which space and citizen are represented, Miles M. (2005) explains how these issues are as relevant to architecture, urban design and urban planning as they are to public art. Drawing on a wealth of images from across the UK and Europe and the USA, in particular, he questions the effectiveness of public art in achieving more pleasant urban environments, whilst retaining the idea that imagining possible futures is as much part of a democratic society as using public space.

Art, Space and the City by Miles M. is chapterized as follows:


The chapters of interest are space representation and gender, art in the urban development and art as a social process.

I am viewing graffiti as a form of public art. It is primarily an urban phenomenon which gained popularity in the 1980’s. GANZ, N. & MANCO, T. (2004) have studied what graffiti is, where it came from, how is it situated on the globe in today’s world. They have explored how letters used to dominate graffiti but over the past decade, graffiti writers have expanded the graffiti culture to a wider scope of expression. The post graffiti movement is characterized by more innovative approaches to form and technique that go beyond traditional perceptions of classical graffiti,

In their book Graffiti world: street art from five continents, they have provided illustrations of graffiti around the world. They divide the locations into the Americas, Europe and the rest of the world. The contents of the book is as follows

  • Foreword
  • Worldwide history of graffiti
  • The here and now
  • The Americas
  • Europe
  • The rest of the world
  • Information
  • Crew names
    • Glossary
    • Websites
    • Select magazines
    • Select bibliography
  • Acknowledgements

GANZ, N. & MANCO, T. (2004, chapter 3) put graffiti in a present context. They point out the evolution of graffiti from being exclusively spray can-based to embracing a wider range of mediums. They have also talked about the emergence of internet and its interesting role in the evolution of graffiti. These contemporary issues of graffiti are the main reason I have chosen to read this book. I shortlisted this book also for the reason that it tries to accomplish a comprehensive documentation of graffiti and its varying characters across the world. Apart from that, I will also be consulting the chapters of worldwide history of graffiti and the locational chapters showcasing graffiti in the Americas, Europe and the rest of the world.

Graffiti has of late taken a step further in its evolution. Graffiti today has embraced the approach of installation art, art which adds a 3rd dimension to it. As opposed to the 2 dimensional old school graffiti, this new exploration in the 3rd dimension is taking the art form to unseen and previously unimaginable heights. . Installation art has emerged as part of graffiti and as a separate entity in itself. Bishop (2005) provides both a history and a full critical examination of this challenging area of contemporary art, from 1960 to the present day. Using case studies of significant artists and individual works, Bishop (2005) argues that, as installation art requires its audience to physically enter the artwork in order to experience it, installation pieces can be categorised by the type of experience they provide for the viewing subject. As well as exploring the methodologies of the artists examined, she also explains the critical theory that informed their work.

Documentary films

· RASH(2005), a feature length documentary by Mutiny Media exploring the cultural value of Australian street art and graffiti

· Roadsworth: Crossing the Line(2007), a documentary film about the legal struggle of Montreal street artist Roadsworth

· Bomb It(2008), a documentary film about graffiti and street art around the world

· Exit Through the Gift Shop(2010), a documentary created by the artistBanksyaboutThierry Guetta

· Street Art Awards(2010), opening of the street art festival in Berlin

· Las Calles Hablan(2013), Las Calles Hablan, a feature length documentary about street art in Barcelona

· Style Wars(1983), a PBS documentary about graffiti artists in New York City featuringSeen,Kase2,DezandDondi


Bishop, C, 2005.Installation Art. Edition. 1st ed. Routledge.

Finkelpearl, T, & Acconci, V, 2001.Dialogues in Public Art. 2nd ed. Massachusetts: First MIT

Ganz, N., & Manco, T, 2004. Graffiti world: street art from five continents. New York, H.N. Abrams.

Knight, C.K., 2011.Public Art: Theory, Practice and Populism. 2nd ed. MA, USA: Blackwell Publishing

Miles, M, 2005.Art, Space and the City. 3rd ed. London: Routledge.