In defence of graffiti
In a country where depression runs high graffiti is a peaceful form of social activism that provides one with a voice
Santosh Kumar is one name I will never be able to forget all my life. This is not because he is someone special in my life; it is because I see his name painted on the walls of Karachi almost every day.
He is the man with a cure for every problem:
“Santosh Kumar: Jadu tonay ka mahir.” (‘Expert at casting spells’)
“Santosh Kumar: Pat mangni jhat biya.” (‘Engaged in a jiffy, married in no time’)
The walls in the city have been used for this cheap and effective advertising for decades. However, what people don’t know about street art is that it is as much about social activism as it is about political activism and advertising. On the one hand, where graffiti illegally and unethically promotes small businesses and political parties, it also gives a voice to ordinary people.
Underground street artists in Karachi do not merely colour public walls, they work towards a cause and try to spread a message. A popular street artist of Karachi, Asim Butt, projected the core feelings of the people of Pakistan through his street art. For him, it was (he passed away last year) more of a medium to protest and a means to put one’s desires, feelings, and demands across to the authorities in a subtle way.
In the lanes of Zamzama, we see some good examples of such activism with drawings of a Pakistan map trying to portray today’s socio-political realities. Further down to the more grassroots areas of the city, we see examples of wall-chalking featuring Iqbal’s poetry or simple lines such as ‘sach bolna mana hai’ (it is forbidden to speak the truth) which accurately and satirically reflects what it means for many to live in contemporary Pakistan.
Art, drawn using stencils — which may not be considered as pure art by some artists — can be a source of stimulation for the common people. It can be used as a medium of expression.
In a country where depression and frustration run high, and where ordinary people know no other medium of protest other than blocking roads, this one of wall-chalking can be a good avenue to let off steam and resentment. And one doesn’t need to be an artist to do graffiti. I believe that graffiti is an art and should be encouraged, not suppressed, in Pakistan.