I would like to express my special thanks of gratitude to Anand Foundation for providing me with this opportunity and their support to undertake this project titled ‘Street Art in Delhi’. It is through this opportunity that I was able to learn something new and subsequently enhance my research skills. I would also like to extend my gratitude to Aakshat Sinha from Delhi Street Art, Kartik Thakur, Anpu Varkey, Pragyesh Parmar and Ritesh Sharma from St+Art for providing me with the opportunity to interact with them. They have been a great source of inspiration and have helped me gain first-hand insight into the functioning of world of street art, a field less explored. Lastly, I would like to thank my family and friends that have supported and guided my throughout this project be it in finalising the project or helping me during my fieldwork. 


Aesthetically pleasing works and installations across roads have been a part of our everyday lives. The first look at them provokes intrigue, then we make an effort to inspect and understand them and gradually these become a part of our lives. Though these works are a creation of the contemporary minds, the practice of non-verbal communication through art has been a prehistoric one. Street art movement of India has its roots in 1960s West Bengal. Since then the defining feature of street art in India is its use for public engagement. In other words, it aims to create a bottom-up approach towards social issues and develop a co-creation process that involves local entrepreneurs, citizens, students and community organisations. Therefore, art and by extension street art can be considered as pieces of culture and have a heritage connotation attached to them. However, attention must be paid to the fact that street art is more than writing your name or painting on public walls. Based on such technicalities, I aim to document the intangible heritage of street art through the physical street art spaces across Delhi. 

What is Street Art? 

Street art refers to the popular visual art forms found around the world, which include wall paintings, art installations, sidewalk chalk art, performances like the lukad natak and many more. Associated with the urban milieu it is also termed urban art. As mentioned, one of the many aspects of street art is wall art or what in a laymen’s term is called graffiti. Unfortunately, this use of the term graffiti is inaccurate. Although graffiti and street art both were introduced as illicit pieces into urban public spaces, there are some notable differences between the two. 

Thank You for Your Visit, Have a Nice Day (Wearable Sculpture) by Agata Olek 

Graffiti primarily refers to the written letter which has evolved from a simple tag or name to wildstyle art with different stylistic elements. However, the change has only been in the formation of the letters and experimentation with colour, shadows, 3D effects, and more. 

   Sidewalk Chalk Art Wildstyle Lettering 

Thereby, graffiti uses letters exclusively, whereas street art ventures outside those parameters. Moreover, these letters border on being illegible and can be primarily understood by the graffiti community only, thus, maintaining a sense of exclusivity. Street art, on the other hand, is not exclusive and can be understood and interpreted even by people that are not artists.  

                 Graffitti at Haus Khaz by Vidita Gupta Street Art by Okuda in Delhi 

Therefore, graffiti and street art not only differ in physical differences in physical techniques of application but also differ on the grounds of motivation and audience, and aesthetic appearance. A piece of street art is carefully planned, keeping the site conditions in mind, and is executed inclusively, and sometimes interactive, to both the urban landscape and its inhabitants. 

The other defining feature of street art is the street itself. The street does not only refer to the road or the path, but it also includes the environment and the space surrounding it like the wall, street signs, bridges and many more. Firstly, the street is used as a physical material. In other words, the street is being used as the canvas by the artists. 

Secondly, the street is an exhibition space for the artists, which is similar to artists using galleries, studios or museums for their artworks. Thereby, the use of the street must be internal to the significance of the art. In other words, while interpreting a piece of street art one must be able to point out how the street is being used by the artists. 

In addition, the street which is intrinsic to the street art, itself, has significance. The road, signs, poles, tunnels etc. that make up the street are public and everyday spaces that are often more than not ignored, conflicted, political and practical spaces. Thus, when one tries to understand or explain street art, one is also forced to identify and talk about street spaces, a non-aesthetic component of the work. In this regard, people are forced to talk about not just the works but their overall meaning, significance and impact on society. 

Street Art on King Street at Toronto, Canada 

Evolution of Street Art 

The modern-day street art movement has its roots in 1960s Philadelphia. It started with Darryl McCray or popularly known by his artist name Cornbread, who in the juvenile prison wrote his artist name Cornbread all over the walls. He continued to write his name on public walls after being released all around Philadelphia. Soon enough, other artists like Taki 183 emerged and the culture of tagging or writing your name on the walls to let people know you were at a particular site began. At this time, Philadelphia was experiencing systematic poverty, homelessness, ongoing racism, violence and neglect of the built environment. The youth in an attempt to control the destruction and to be able to express themselves quickly took on to this practice of tagging. 

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Cornbread in 1971 announcing his retirement 

By the 1970s, almost all available space on walls and trains filled. It was at such a time that to keep up with competition some graffiti artists formed crews, which helped in increasing the scale of paintings through teamwork. The other way to stand out was to develop a new style. Thus, we also find that some taggers move away from the easy to read monochromatic tags towards large multi-coloured pieces that involved complex compositions. Thus, developed the wildstyle lettering with an elaborate three-dimensional effect. Thereby, some artists were able to convert their names to their logos, to their brands. However, these works lacked any direct social and political content and were concentrated only on the way the tag looked on the urban landscape. Further, these masterpieces were sometimes so abstract that the name was virtually illegible to most people except those within this culture. 

Alongside graffiti, a new subculture of break dancing and hip hop was also coming to life. Again, in an underserved environment riddled with gangs and drugs, the youth had to create alternate activities as their after-school pastimes. Thus, a counter-cultural shift began to occur where many took their art directly to the people and into the streets. This sequence of events triggered the rise of modern street art, evolving parallel to its counterpart, graffiti. 

Blade with His Graffiti in 1970s 

Street Art on New York Subway in 1978 

History of Street Art in India 

In India, the practice of painting public spaces has its roots in the ancient era. The oldest evidence of the same comes from the Buddhist cave paintings in Ajanta. Further, street art’s use, although without the title, is a common practice all over the country. 

         Truck Art                                                                  Ajanta Cave Painting 

This includes the hand-painted Bollywood posters, truck art, painted advertisements on walls or even the images of gods painted along sidewalks or tiles affixed to the walls. In addition, between 1960 and 1990, West Bengal also had a thriving culture of political street art ranging from drawings of Naxalite party workers killed by the police or the portraits of Indira Gandhi in psychedelic colours. 

However, these practices have declined while the political works in Bengal have disappeared. Instead, the practice of tagging, as seen in the street art culture has arisen in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai. 

Some of the well-known names of such taggers are Yantra, Zine and Daku. Sincethen, gradually, the street art practice in India has become more organised. At present times, we have several organisations like St+Art India Foundation and Delhi Street Art, which are solely dedicated to promoting the street art culture. It is with the efforts of these organisations and individual artists that many street art festivals are being organised across the country. 

Street Art by Daku for India Art Fair 


Sketching Outlining 

Final product 

One of the first instances of an organised street art event was in 2012 in Delhi at the Khirki extension. It was organised by Khoj’s Astha Chauhan and Matteo Ferraresi, wanting to see whether a public art project could exist without funding on its merit and how the lack of funding would impact the artistic expression. During this festival, several artists from Khirki Village and outside came together and created murals on the walls by consulting the local vendors and inhabitants of the street. Such festivals aim to take art out of galleries and make it more accessible to the public. Whereas with the establishment of organisations like St+Art India Foundation and Delhi Street Art, a new style of working was developed, that brought various governmental agencies on board to create murals to beautify public spaces with all permissions in place. This has created a safe space for various artists like Daku that have moved on from being graffiti artists to street artists that create works that are commissioned or created with sanctions from government organisations or various patrons. 

Street Art at Khirkhi Extension 

Street Art at Haus KhasCherry Blossom

Through such efforts, across India and specifically in Delhi we have several sites that are now solely dedicated to the creation of street art. Some of these include the Hauz Khas Village, Shahpur Jat, Lodhi Art District, Khirki extension, Tughlakabad port area and Connaught Place. The majority of these localities have emerged as a part of or as a result of an organised street art festival, wherein local, national and international artists came together. Simultaneously, these colourful areas connect the history of settlement across Delhi with an urban movement that is an expression of contemporary society.