Behind the Scenes at St+art India

There’s no way you’re from Delhi with an internet connection, that you do not know of the St+art Festival that concluded recently. For the last few years a bunch of misfits have gotten together, first in their studio in Hauz Khas Village and now in Qutab Institutional Area, and attempted to make the city walls better.

During a visit to Delhi in late 2015, I chanced upon a casual meeting with Guilia, Hanif and Akshat of the St+art India team, when I visited Tanushree, an old friend and project manager for the festival. Before I heard back, I made up my mind of being in the capital for the duration of the festival, because I felt like I needed to be in one place for longer than a week or two, and more importantly, to stay with projects for longer, for them to make sense to me, beyond just finishing them up and sending across invoices.

I lived primarily out of two places, visiting Lodhi Colony almost four or five times a week through the months of January and February. In the quaint, peaceful Lodhi, I found familiarity over the two months, and perhaps a sense of routine. In my time there, I came across all kinds of people - shopkeepers, residents, children - which gave me a sense of community.

Most mornings included a glass of juice from Khanna Market, and a quick snack of chhole kulche, until we moved to a lunch with the crew members around a wall that was being painted. My work was primarily to document the festival’s fourth edition in photos and video in between the many breaks and meals, ha! Akshat, who handles all content, and I had similar ideas on how to approach the task. Besides regular coverage we tried to film a little documentary about the Lodhi Art District, one half of the festival’s fourth edition, instead of the regular after movie. We’re really excited about it, and it should be about in a couple of months - unless we win a Cannes for it, duh!

Akshat and I hung around Lodhi Colony almost every other day, flitting between different walls and artworks, meeting artists, and interviewing people in the area. On some days we went back to the studio to edit some of the photos, but I tried to use my time in the city to check out different things - new places to eat, gigs, and meeting members of Delhi's creative community. On many days, Akshat and myself would also invite friends over to meet us in the neighbourhood, to come see the art and just hang, if nothing else, so it almost always felt like it was a little street party.

Some of my favourite works involved the work of Neil ‘Shoe’ Muelman from Amsterdam, who wrote a poem in his style of Caligraffiti and the work of Spanish artist Borondo, which was across the road from a maternity hospital, and who made me stand there to really soak in the artwork. We were interviewing Borondo for the documentary the day after completion and he seemed really bummed out. He was disappointed with the final outcome of his efforts, though he eventually made peace with it (or pretended to), and gave us a fun interview. This was another takeaway from the festival - observing artists in their element. I’m glad I can say I met a bunch of really cool people like Anpu Varkey (who painted The Lava Tree), Lek and Sowat who are from France (and love Delhi), or my personal favourite, Amitabh Kumar who really is one of the nicest guys, besides being a phenomenal artist.

The other half of the festival comprised a rather interesting project - the WIP Show. In association with the Container Corporation of India, the St+art crew put together a month long exhibition with art spread across a hundred shipping containers, laid out in different formations and constantly in progress, at a container yard in Okhla. Least where you’d expect it. While I spent a majority of the festival in Lodhi Colony, we did visit the Okhla site from time to time. Most weekends were spent there, documenting the activities lined up - gigs, B-boy battles, poetry slams, workshops, and the sheer number of people that showed up every damn weekend. It felt like a mirage in the middle of a parking lot at a place of business and administration, behind the city’s largest landfill.

I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my year, before I’m reunited with the crew once again for the next edition. Until then, spin this song - it was kinda like our unofficial festival anthem, at the office, on the streets and at the afterparties. No puns intended.


Naman Saraiya is a writer, photographer and filmmaker.  Follow him on instagram at @namansaraiya.