The Design Observer Group

Posted 01.20.11

Meena Kadri

Meena Kadri’s Collection of Indian Street Graphics

India: In Bodakdev

It started quite innocently — as most obsessions do. A snap of a painted truck here and spot of rural advertising there, on annual trips to the ancestral homeland. But soon the constant visual chatter of the Indian streetscape began to dominate my excursions. I scoured markets when they were closed in the hope of finding alluring roller doors on closed shop fronts. I would shriek at rickshaw drivers to stop over peeling billboards. Random strangers were enlisted to keep my parked scooter balanced while I stood on it to get a shot of an highly perched signboard.


I began to pursue moving targets and form sub-obsessions like painted rickshaw mudflaps. I co-opted bemused taxi drivers in my compulsive quests and sought their opinions on the embellished onslaughts we encountered. I came to see decorative devices as a sweetener — a kind of coping-mechanism to counter the sometimes severe reality of existence in India. These evolving graphic fashions and techniques provide vibrant food for the urban Indian eye which craves novelty as much as it respects tradition.

Not content with merely recording the diverse cacophony of competing styles I sought to meet with the artists themselves. They often work from the roadside and I joined some there to talk shop and devise exhibition pieces. One of my talented collaborators told me why he got into rickshaw decoration. "If you do a good job your work travels all over town. Best advertisement. No need to go out and find new customers. They come find me here," he said proudly from his popular studio of twenty five years, under a tree on a bustling street corner. "And I painted that sign there" he tells me, nodding to the nearby tea stall, "so free chai."