The Independent Student Newspaper of Ashoka University

The Virtue in Tainted Walls

Zainab Ghafoor-Firdausi, Class of 2019

“A white blank page, and a swelling rage.”Mumford & Sons

(Translation: Rules and regulations do not make up universities)

Lady Pink, Banksy, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Seen are just a handful of world famous graffiti artists. Most prominent of whom is Banksy, an artist or group of artists who operate anonymously. Their art is politically charged and often satirical, some of their recent works include graffitis on sweatshops in Bangladesh, mass surveillance by governments, inhuman treatment of migrants on the French border.

But this article is not about Banksy or any of the others mentioned, it’s an inquiry into the medium through which they express their sentiments. Graffitis hold much more value than just being aesthetically pleasing, they occupy public spaces and more often than not convey strong convictions.

And recently, this phenomenon has made its way to Ashoka: most of us choose to create art in our rooms but unfortunately it stays put. Yet, there has been a gradual movement of art on to the blank walls we cross each day and this must be acknowledged. The graffiti ranges from a spray-painted rendering of Edvard Munch’s The Scream in the new academic block to some profound and profane scribbles in a meeting room and the residences respectively.

This author once joked, “Ashoka is like a halfway house that people rest at during their commutes to and from Delhi”; although a gross exaggeration the statement only points to the dire need of a unique and consolidated student culture and this can be achieved through occupying Ashoka’s walls. A university can be created by constructing four buildings but its spirit is embodied by the innovation that goes on within and without its classrooms.

Additionally, graffiti itself can be quite cathartic, especially in a campus such as ours which is simmering with discussions surrounding gender politics, mental health, academics, and environmental concerns, the appearance of art on the bare walls can turn up the heat and allow people to engage with the issues at hand. Quite often stress seems loom to over the general student body, whose artistic exhalations can breathe life into the tabula rasa that is Ashoka. The Edvard Munch rendering on the ground floor of the new academic block is accompanied with the words “I’m alright”, this provides the perfect start to the culture of graffiti-ing since it seems to be the confession of an individual or a group but probably resonates with the entire student body since all of us have probably echoed those two words at some point or another during our time at Ashoka.

This medium allows people to communicate through art: a scribbled conversation that goes on back and forth under the garb of anonymity, evidence of which can be found in some of the politically charged graffiti in the dorms. Overnight, the words by the The Scream graffiti were followed up with a “Hang in there, friend”. For those of us having bad days, no one can truly ever assess the significance of a few kind words imprinted on the walls. The tacit understanding communicated through the works that have cropped up is a larger way of telling us to truly hang in there. When Banksy was asked why they do what they do, the response was, “I used to want to save the world but now I’m not sure I like it enough”. Their response embodies the exasperation which many of us feel towards the world around us, something the quotes plastered on the meeting room on the first floor convey: “I get by with a little help from my friends”, “No one is beyond redemption”,“Make friends with what you are”.

Lastly, it is these rants, doodles, and elaborate sketches which will immortalise and commit to posterity the ideas of these first few generations of Ashokans. And perhaps, later in the future one can observe the mood of the art to gauge the multitude of personalities, thoughts, and beliefs that once walked these halls.

(Or just maybe the walls will be painted over again, but then you see: that is probably not the point of it).

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