Meet Yogesh Saini, Who Spearheaded Street Art in India, Painted Town With Shades of Mahatma Gandhi

© Photo : Delhi Street ArtGraffitti depicting Mahatma Gandhi
Graffitti depicting Mahatma Gandhi - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.10.2021
Widely referred to as the "Father of the Nation" in India, Mahatma Gandhi led the country's freedom movement. He, along with many other national leaders, raised the public voice against British rule peacefully. On 2 October, the world marks his birth anniversary as the International Day of Non-Violence.
The buzzing streets of Delhi, with creative murals, have become a major attraction and trend among artists in the past few years. Major credit for this creative outburst goes to Delhi Street Art, an organisation that was started eight years ago by engineer-turned entrepreneur Yogesh Saini.
One of the most prominent works of the Delhi Street Art group has been to paint the town with the life journey of an Indian freedom fighter and global icon -- Mahatma Gandhi.
© Photo : Delhi Street ArtGraffitti depicting Mahatma Gandhi
Graffitti depicting Mahatma Gandhi - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.10.2021
Graffitti depicting Mahatma Gandhi
As India celebrates "Gandhi Jayanti" on Saturday, Yogesh remembers Gandhi through his artworks done by his organisation -- Delhi Street Art -- and how each of their creations has been unique in its own manner and contributes to bringing about a positive change in society.
In an interview with Sputnik, Yogesh Saini reflected upon his journey being lived through creative expressions while evoking love for art in people's lives.
© Photo : Delhi Street ArtYogesh Saini, founder of Delhi Street Art
Yogesh Saini, founder of Delhi Street Art - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.10.2021
Yogesh Saini, founder of Delhi Street Art
Sputnik: Be it the streets of Delhi, prisons, or trains, you have painted different murals of Mahatma Gandhi over the last eight years. What have your most prominent artworks been, and how did you and your Delhi Street Art team present things so differently every time?
Yogesh Saini: We painted the entire Mandoli Jail in Delhi on a Mahatma Gandhi theme. Right from projecting his childhood, studying abroad, to how his revolutionary movements (during the British rule) such as the Non-Violence Movement, the Quit India Movement and many others -- his artworks have played a big role in bringing a positive impact in so many people's lives till date.
Be it showcasing when Gandhi stole something for the first time and then sought forgiveness from his father, to internalising the virtue of "Satyagrah" (truthfulness) after watching a play, or facing racial aggression in South Africa, and how he used the might of pen to bring a change in the society. All this and many more exciting insights from his life journey inspired us to spread awareness through murals.
The interesting thing was that we engaged with prison inmates, who helped us in creating the artwork. We also created one of the biggest and [most] colourful Gandhi murals at Tihar Jail in Delhi.
We also painted an entire diesel locomotive engine train with Mahatma Gandhi murals, with a reference to the revolutionary non-violence movement, which became a big hit worldwide.
Sputnik: Eight years ago, you brought a new wave of street art to India and established "Delhi Street Art". How has the journey been since then?
Yogesh Saini: The journey has been mind-blowing. Having lived away from India for almost two decades, I decided to return to Delhi eight years ago. During my frequent visits to Delhi's popular Lodhi Garden, I noticed that the garbage cans installed there were not eye-catchy. To me, it looked like an interesting canvas to convert them into a piece of artwork and spread public awareness.
When we started off, the concept of murals wasn’t known in India, and finding artists to do this was a challenge.
The first ones to join hands for this project were artists from Russia named Maria Krizhanovskaya and Asya Shivay. It turned out to be a big hit.
© Photo : Delhi Street ArtRussian artists painting garbage cans at Delhi's popular Lodhi Garden
Russian artists painting garbage cans at Delhi's popular Lodhi Garden - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.10.2021
Russian artists painting garbage cans at Delhi's popular Lodhi Garden
One project led to another, and we ended up beautifying various cities. From slums, schools, prisons to small villages and festivals, this turned out to be an organic revolutionary process.
People started looking at walls as canvas to create their masterpieces. We have engaged with over 5,000 artists in the last eight years and actively work with around 2,000 artists on different corporate and public projects.
Sputnik: What challenges did you face when you started Delhi Street Art?
Yogesh Saini: There were a few people who would walk up to us and start questioning why we were wasting money on painting a wall instead of using it to pay for someone’s education.
Another challenge was that some of the sites were so dirty that you just could not stand there even for a minute.
But once the place got transformed, the whole attitude of the people, who were abusing the space by throwing garbage, and would never walk on that footpath, are now clicking pictures and appreciative about street art.
Sputnik: Tell us about the most interesting project so far?
Yogesh Saini: We were in a Malana village in Himachal Pradesh state, known for people leading a secluded life. They don’t appreciate outsiders even coming close to them or touching them. Social distancing is their way of living in general.
When we visited that place, I decided to engage locals in creating artwork and get them talking.
We were greeted with a lot of scepticism. But the next day, 50 children showed up to help us and they were so overjoyed that they grabbed me by my hand and dragged me to their house to enjoy a cup of tea with them.
That was the first-of-its-kind experience and doing something distinct and unique. Inspiring so many lives is the most gratifying experience of all of them.
© Photo : Delhi Street ArtStreet artists with villagers from Malana in Himachal Pradesh
Street artists with villagers from Malana in Himachal Pradesh  - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.10.2021
Street artists with villagers from Malana in Himachal Pradesh
Sputnik: What are the upcoming projects in the pipeline?
Yogesh Saini: We’ve recently done murals on Paralympic winners and girl child education on the street. We are also coming up with new murals around kids recovering from cancer, some are for hotels, and one on Indo-European partnership.
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