Mumbai graffiti pioneer Zake, is on a mission to splash some colour on this city. And he likes to be anonymous about it.
They like anonymity, they work 9 to 5 (after dark), colours and alphabets arouse them and government properties are their canvas of choice. And it’s not something their mummy and daddy will be too thrilled about.
Graffiti art may still be in its infancy, but the tags and signs can be seen blaring fluorescently from the quaint catholic lanes of Bandra, to rundown walls and abandoned warehouses in the heart of the city. It’s an expensive affair, with the added risk of being chased away by the cops or being pulled up for public vandalism. But at the end of the day, it’s colourful and arty, and people mostly enjoy it and do not give a damn. There are rules, though.
“We paint on government properties, but take permissions for public property and private properties. We have certain rules like no graffiti on temples monuments etc,” says one of the pioneers of graffiti art in Mumbai, Prathmesh Gurav aka Zake.
The 23-year-old from Santacruz had no doubts about his choice in life.
“It’s for the people, not against the people. We want to express it and people like it,” he adds.
Zake, who forms part of the DIS and Beast Mode crews in the city, has had his encounters with cops, drug addicts and generally disgruntled citizens during his graveyard shifts.
“My family is scared sometimes and I usually don’t tell them. Honestly nobody would like their child to slip out at night, jumping around walls and doing what we do,” Zake, who also represents Brazilian Elegants Crew, says.
But at the same time he feels that night is the best time to work up his adrenalin without any interference.
So how did this next to nonexistent art form in India catch his attention?
Art and drawing skills were always there for this fine arts student; stumbling up on a magazine featuring a piece on graffiti was his first introduction to this branch of hip hop in 2008. A trip to Malaysia the following year significantly decided his destiny on the graffiti laden walls of the Southeast Asian country.
“I thought I should experiment with this when I came back to India. But no one was doing it. Streets gave me that freedom of expression,” says Zake.
An encounter with some German artists who were spraying up his neighborhood kind of sealed the gaps with them gifting him some aerosol cans and few words of advice.
“There were no spray can shops when I started, and even if there were, it was of low quality with no separate nozzles,” recalls Zake.
Since paper was too small for him to express his agenda, Zake took to the streets to flaunt that freedom.
“There’s one dealer in Delhi who provides us with the cans for 450 bucks a pop,” he adds.
And you can’t get this shit done with a couple of cans either.
As Zake says, “We need at least four colours, which means four cans. We try to save cash by using box paint with rollers as well.”
So naturally the question hangs as to its viability and affordability, let alone making money out of it.
Surprisingly or not, this new-school-wild-style artist not only can afford it but makes a living out of it too. Of course there are the good and bad days, just like any other art and freelance ventures.
While he does the real thing on the streets, for money he gets commissioned by brands such as Nike, Adidas and Audi to do their artwork and for festivals like the NH7 Weekender.
“It’s a niche market and there are not many people doing it,” Zake points out. And things have been looking up with a trip to Germany for a graffiti event in the past, and an upcoming trip to Brazil for an international graffiti festival.
Although international artists and crews such as Smash 137 and JBCB top his list of favourites, the artist tries not to get influenced.
“I try not to follow anyone during my learning state,” Zake says.
He and his homies get the scene buzzing with graffiti jams and connected activities.
In fact the first graffiti jam by him called the Outlaw Graffiti Camp, had happened in Bandra that included performances by skateboarders, BMX riders, B-boying and rapping crews.
Zake considers himself to be an art director in the sub-cultural movement of which he is now a part. He got a shout-out from MC Kaur during a track from her debut album Hip Hop Bahu.
And if these things didn’t keep him busy, he lends his skills in doing album art for rappers, design t-shirts for B-boys, design crew t-shirts and gig posters.
“I rap too,” says the artist.
Zake certainly enjoys the rush he gets when he sees the unsuspecting public enjoying and admiring his works plastered around the city.
“There are spots that are so visible but tricky to paint and people wonder how the fuck did they (artists) reach there,” he says.
So next time you see the tags and art on the railway bridge in Naigaon, you know who’s behind it.
Zake is featured in Hip Hop Homeland, a series about India's underground hip hop scene.
By Mohan KK