Street Art Files: Gandhi
This is the first post in the series of short interviews with uprising street artists from the post-soviet territory. Gandhi, a collective from St. Petersburg respond to our typical questions about their socially-oriented street art, and themes of feminism, tolerance, and non-violence.
Under what name / nickname you work?
Gandhi. We use the name of Mahatma Gandhi consciously, because we adhere to the same position of non-violent resistance. Art in the streets does not kill anyone, but it makes people freer. We are a diverse group of like-minded people who come together periodically to do common projects, help each other or collectively generate ideas.
How and when did you start to make art in the streets?
At some point, we were faced with the fact that art in museums and galleries was limited and limiting. We began to feel sad, that what we thought was important, was in fact just a toy for a group of people with an arts education, free time and money. We used to live in Omsk, a quiet and gray city which needed art on the streets more than a Moscow gallery. Omsk became our first blank canvas. Then came St. Petersburg; an urban canvas not as clean, with many museums, history and memory, but all the more complex and interesting.
Please describe your projects.
We started by writing words on the walls. During the protests in 2011-2012, the streets were filled with words like "love", "honesty", "reality". There is now even a social advertising campaign in which banners use these words, but come with the note "tell this to your children." All this was not true, especially in Omsk.
We realized that people unconsciously believe such inscriptions, written in a simple plain font, in black letters. Inscriptions like signs on buildings, or street signs for bus routes tell people the 'truth', and so, people are open to them. But add a spray to the inscriptions and people perceive them as vandalism. So we decided to use this medium. It started with a project called "References" where we would write the names of books that we wanted to suggest to others. But this became boring. We wanted to move from words to images.
Our first pictures were of animals. We populated the empty city with fauna like opossum, wolves, ostriches.
Then we began to add images of people. The city is often full of inscriptions such as "forward Slavs" and we decided to respond to this series of the "right to be Russian" by adding images of African girls, bedouins and Indians. These pictures were perceived ambiguously, even as right-wing propaganda, although we had a different intention. We wanted to reveal the idea that the country and the city should be 'home' not based on nationality, but because someone lives there. The ideal of a home for all.
We did a series about migrant women in their national costumes on the streets of Omsk, Petersburg and as part of exhibitions in Moscow and Perm. This started a heated debate about the space for street art in a gallery. Our opinion is that if intentions converge with the curators or if an exhibition is socially oriented, it benefits the image of street art as a whole. Because street art is still perceived by many as vandalism.
Next, we did a series called "Women in the street" - dressed and undressed. This work was about our self-perception in relation to men, and within the context of a hazardous urban environment, when everywhere and around every corner there might be a cop, or a janitor who will come in the morning with a can of paint to cover up. It was a reflection of our banal animal fears.
Our last series was done by a large group of people. Small anti-war stencils created in reaction to the then scheduled annexation of the Crimea.
Why do you do what you do?
To make the world better; aesthetically, socially, politically. Art on the streets is violent, but everyone remains alive, as opposed to with political activity. In addition, we mimic things to fit in the urban environment. We are driven by ambitions, from which we have no escape, even if we moved to a desert island. One main ambition is by doing a satisfactory or good job, things comes to life and we enter into a dialogue with the audience.
Who / what inspires you?
Other street art artists, known and unknown, actionists, activists. Folk cultures of different countries, different religions, artistic methods (it is interesting to know all the possible ways to use art supplies). Any new realm outside of our personal comfort mode is an open space in which ideas are generated. The next important step is collectivism, a debate resulting from the idea of utopia and converting it into reality.
What is the reaction of people (friends, passers-by, the media) on your projects?
Most friends like what we do, because we try to involve ourselves and make "beautiful" works. But, for example, a friend said that our stencils about migrants would only exacerbate nationalism, and that when people see Tajiks on walls they will likely get even more annoyed at them. We believe that this exercise builds tolerance. If you do not try to annoy anyone in life, you have to paint everything white and die without casting a shadow.
What are your political views, are the reflected in your works ? Do you consider the socio-political context?
Our views are left idealism. The main political principle which drives us is that there should be more love. A socio-political context can not be ignored if you want to change something.
Do you think that art can change the realities of the urban environment and society?
Sure. Art is necessary not just to provoke thoughts, or to make you think "I can do that," but also to generate the desire to go and do.