Her mother got her into art. Hip Hop got her into graffiti.
The first time I speak to Kajal Singh, she strikes me as a shy girl. One of the first female graffiti artists in India, who goes by the moniker ‘Dizy’, she is somewhat the opposite of what I expected. Her ‘writing’ often focuses on developing her signature ‘Dizy’, which she incorporates into graffiti art that fills up an entire wall. From locations as diverse as the spaces under railway bridges to the sides of agreeable city-dwellers' properties, Singh writes in as many areas as she can access.
Kajal Singh aka Dizy was introduced to hip-hop as a young teen
A soft voice, halting and uncertain in places, shy but heartfelt in others, answers my questions with an air of deferent politeness. I have to coax some responses out of her, but the time she really hits her stride is when she talks about how hip-hop culture has changed her life. She’s earnest about its effect on her as person, and her voice wills me to believe what a big part it is of who she has become. She’s excited when she talks about her plans for the future, and as she laughs I get a glimpse of the unguarded Dizy beneath the nervousness, a person who seems fun, kind and full of life.
Singh was introduced to hip-hop as a young teen attending local cyphers (jams). Falling in love with the culture and music of hip-hop, graffiti was her doorway into this world. Traditionally graffiti has been illegal and so many artists used a pseudonym; she says she “just came up with this name Dizy. Actually Dizzy means mad, so I thought being a first graffiti girl in India is crazy, so I just kept it Dizy with a single ‘z’.”
Her art is interesting to me because it’s within the style of old-school graffiti, unlike most of the other street art happening in India today. It stays true to the origins of graffiti, and the blocky, bubbly letters, the shine, the accents – they all make her tags pop in the way they do, and the tiny caricatures that often accompany them toe the line between kitschy and charming in a way that makes you want to take a closer look. The danger with Dizy’s art, I feel, is the tendency to get repetitive or boring, but she manages to circumvent that by continually experimenting with new handwritings and styles.
Collaboration with Heis (#Jukeboxcowboys) in Hamburg, Germany
She now divides her time between Berlin and Delhi. Here are some excerpts from our chat.
What’s the difference between negotiating the streets in Delhi vs. Berlin? What are the pleasures? What are the risks?
For Indians, since they haven’t seen graffiti, most of the time it’s very interesting and fascinating. In Berlin, graffiti is illegal, you know. Some people see it as art, but some see it as illegal vandalism, so they’re not so appreciative there. Here, they’re appreciative. But at night, or if you’re going somewhere where nobody is there, sometimes it’s a little risky in India.
So do you prefer doing graffiti in Delhi?
I’ve also heard this from my friends who live in Berlin or wider Europe – they say that in Asia, people are more hungry for art and they appreciate it more. While in their country, or in Europe, they’ve already seen it and they’re not appreciative. They see it in a different way.
Graffiti on a tram in Novokuznetsk, Siberia
In India do you end up needing to ask permission from the people whose structure you want to paint, or do you do it secretly?
I think I have hardly done any without permission, because well, I’m just not brave enough. So mostly I ask for permission or do it in an abandoned area.
So when you did ask for permission, were most people open to it? How did they react?
Mostly when we go to places like a village or an urban village, they’re very happy because we’re decorating their space. But when we go to a nicer urban place, they think, oh no no!
How do you use social media to reach out? Do you like engaging with people on it?
I use social media because I think that’s a great way to show your work all around the world. Many people I don’t know around the world, they know me and my work through the Internet, and we reach each other.
Original B-girl Dizy
I know you’ve done a lot of collaborative projects with other artists. Tell me more about that – do you like working in a group and collaborating?
I think it’s much more fun than being alone and painting. I’ve painted with a lot of great artists from Europe. Sometimes I watch them, how they’re doing it and ask them for techniques, and they help me.
What are some of your favourite spaces to do graffiti in India? Why?
One of my favourite spaces is Bandra in Mumbai. In Bandra everybody is now very open to graffiti. I think I painted two or three pieces there, and people still message me and ask, “When will you come back, when will you paint another wall?” So I really like Mumbai people and how they’re open to everything. I think Mumbai is more open socially and culturally, whereas here [in Delhi] people are… they have a bit of attitude and stuff like that (laughs).
What about in Europe?
When we go by ourselves, we have to go to a particular place where it’s legal, where it’s allowed to paint. Because it’s not like India where it’s just about going and painting. We can go anywhere, there’s so much chance here – compared to there, where it’s already full (laughs). So we have to go to a particular place where it’s legal. We don’t have a problem when we’re going through some company.
Her favourite space for graffiti is Bandra in Mumbai, India
Has your style changed since when you first started out? What’s the difference now?
Yeah, definitely. Because when we started, we just looked on the Internet and tried to copy other artists. But then we get to know that you have to develop your own style. Then meeting with other artists around the world, and learning from them and practicing and practicing…
So did you end up picking up techniques from other artists?
People see your piece, and they get to know the style of the artist. They have a particular flavour of their own, their artwork.
Your younger brother is also a graffiti artist – how are you two different?
We started with the same sort of style – New York old-school style, more blocky. Then I travelled to different countries and I developed my own style, a little bubbly, but I still do blocky letters. My brother has stuck to 3D old-school style.
#NEWDELHISTYLE - with Victor Ramos in Hamburg, Germany
You also have other painters in your family. What kind of painting do they do?
My family is very creative. My mom used to paint watercolors on different types of media. I think we got interested in art from her. When I was a little girl, I started painting watercolors. I always won competitions in school. Then I got into hip-hop, through breakdancing, and I got to know that graffiti is also one of the elements of hip-hop. That was more fascinating for us, me and my brother, because we were artists. And so we started graffiti. And I knew that there was no other girl in India doing graffiti… so that would be interesting.
What kind of art do you do at home on canvases?
Sometimes I do watercolors, sometimes graffiti style with markers.
Which do you like doing better?
What is your interest in hip-hop culture? Has it become part of who you are? Do you connect with it strongly?
Before coming into hip-hop, I was a little Indian girl who hadn’t much of an idea about life, and not so independent. But when I got into hip-hop, I became independent. I convinced my parents to let me go around the world. I also feel like I’ve become more mature, because I’ve met other people, older people, and listened to them. Art is not about your age group. That’s why I feel like I’ve become more open and mature about life.
Do you think it’s possible to dislike hip-hop and still be a graffiti artist?
Yes, definitely. Earlier, every aspect – graffiti, dance, DJing – every element existed on its own. Then someone put it all together and said okay, we have four elements. But before that, all of it was on its own in New York in the 1970s. Because in India we have a small group, a small scene, so we know each other. But in other countries there are still people who are into graffiti but they are not into hip-hop. They listen to punk music. It’s still possible.
My conversation with Dizy drove home the fact that graffiti artists come in all shapes, sizes and demeanours. A girl who came across to me as shy and demure also makes bold statements with her art, and is unafraid to take on the streets the world over. It has reinvigorated my love for street art and graffiti and the way it marries cultures of art, music and dance to make it a unique part of the hip hop scene.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Tanvi Kanchan
Photo credits: www.facebook.com