“The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke”” -JERZY KOSINSKI
Kannagi Nagar in Chennai is one of the largest resettlement neighbourhoods in India with approximately over 80,000 inhabitants. Formed in the early 2000s, Kannagi Nagar now houses people from various slums in Chennai and has a large population that lost livelihood due to the tsunami that destructed the city in 2004. Quietly tucked away near the Old Mahabalipuram Road, this site has been transformed into an Art District with the help of St+art India, an NPO in collaboration with Asian Paints. This initiative has brought artists from across the globe and across the nation to Chennai and has brought evident colourful changes to the area.
As you walk in to Kannagi Nagar, you realize the natural symmetry these blocks of housing have. The eye catches the number of blocks that this locality has and as far as your sight goes, you only see monotonous patterns of these blocks with their tiny black water tanks on the terraces. With the site filled with concrete platforms and gravels and stones, there is not much greenery to the area. The other thing that calls for attention is the fact that the kids living in this locality play outdoor sports like volleyball, football, and cricket, out on the pebble-filled spaces between the blocks. The noise is a combination of kids having fun, uncles having a chat over tea and local news, and vendors selling fish and groceries. At first, it is a such a novel sight, when you notice that these groceries are sold through their home windows.
The idea behind this project was simply to break the stigma that this neighbourhood holds in the society. Kannagi Nagar, for years now, has been deemed as unsafe and dangerous by people of Chennai. It has a reputation for being highly notorious and for having raging alcoholics and drug-sellers. St+art India’s whole intention was to change the narrative of this locality. This was turned into a mega Art District in the late of February 2020.
The murals found on the walls of Kannagi Nagar mirror the true nature of people living in it. There is a painted wall around every block. When you turn from one side to the other, you are greeted by the plethora of colours, some monochrome, some very lively and energetic With over fifteen artists taking part in this collaboration, this project brought together the two stakeholders – the creator and the consumer. As days passed, even the children in the area were brought into paint some of the murals in the area. The story behind every art displayed through Kannagi Nagar is a testament to the fact that ART is indeed for ALL.
The question of whether art reflects the community through aspects of economy, and culture still lingers. Kannagi Nagar Art District answers that question on many levels. The major theme of this art district seems to be that of ‘Migration’. With over sixteen walls painted, this open-air theatre of sorts has managed to garner the attention of the many Chennaiities who have ignored and isolated the locality of Kannagi Nagar in the past.
Thanks to St+art India and Asian Paints, Chennai is the first city in Tamil Nadu to get an Art District. The Art District was inaugurated on March 9th 2020 by the Chennai Corporation. The best part about this initiative is the art festival that is organized simultaneously to engage with the people of these localities. The art festival is all about encouraging ART FOR ALL along with other entertainment like dance and music. Apart from giving Kannagi Nagar a new facade, the initiative also gave opportunities for children to have a first-hand experience with art. Some of them had the chance to work on these walls.
On the quest of finding out the true role of art in the society, one thing became clear and prominent. ART heals the maimed. It spreads a ray of hope and re-instills the idea of HAPPINESS in the hearts of millions. It is reflective of the society. Art cannot be restricted to one section of the society and it will never be.