I ended my last blog post with a bit of a riddle. The street art I documented in the last post, most of it seemed like commissioned work. Visually brilliant that it was, it still missed that edginess one generally associates with street art. While walking the streets of Kochi, I also came across this artwork which was a bit quirky, political in its messaging and not too elaborate.
The tag read “Guess Who”.
The striking aspect of this stencil art was the mashups of popular international figures with Indian everyman/everywoman. For instance, the smiling face of Colonel Sanders pasted on a daily wage labourer sitting on the ground in dhoti and chappals or Mona Lisa’s face on the body of a typical Indian village girl carrying a pot of water.
The artwork, which did not have these kind of mashups, was mostly accompanied by some witty prose.
First I thought it may be some local artist, who is renowned for these cheeky artworks. But spotting Guess Who artwork isn’t that easy, like it wasn’t at the best of Kochi locations to sport artwork. It was mostly to be seen on walls in tiny lanes or plastered on the sidewalk which was filled with advertisement posters.
This made me wonder, if this was one of those genuine street artists who stamp the city with their artwork for no money, but to make a statement?
Sure enough, a Google search online revealed interesting aspects of Guess Who. The artists’ work apparently started showing up around the time of the 2014 Kochi Muziris Biennale, the first of its kind to be held in India. Guess Who’s artwork was a protest against what he/she thought to be an elite art festival. There even was a map of Fort Kochi dotted with Guess Who artwork.
Some of Guess Who’s earlier works involved pasteups, which of course because of their very nature must have been taken down or painted over. I didn’t see a lot of the works which I later discovered online. Some of those that survived, seem to be on their last leg. The stencil work though did pop up with some cheeky messaging on the side. I would assume that was the more recent work.
With the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018 all set to begin from 12 December and go all the way up to March 2019, will Guess Who strike again? Will it be that much more difficult to spot new Guess Who artworks, now that it is a well known fact that one of the motivations behind the artworks was to protest against the Biennale? Will the Biennale let him be, knowing that the artist started his/her documentation on the walls of Kochi, to send a message to the organisers of the Biennale?
We shall find out in the coming days.