Thursday, 17 March 2016

Walking Delhi – Blooming Walls of Lodhi Colony

Lodhi Art District, Lodhi Colony, New Delhi

Spring is in the air. This year it is not only Delhi’s roundabouts and parks that are blooming. This time even the walls are celebrating the arrival of few perfect days by blossoming into a burst of myriad colours and forms.

Delhi’s villages like Hauz Khas and Shahpur Jat have already metamorphosed from nondescript villages to ultimate destinations for boutiques and restaurants. Now it is the turn of one of the many staid government colonies, south of Lutyens’ Delhi to get some attention. The government colonies built by PWD to house babus of newly independent India were quite utilitarian and simple to get any attention. Times are changing.

You grew up in and around government colonies like Sarojini Nagar, Lakshmibai Nagar and Nauroji Nagar. Whenever you get a chance, you love going back to these places. When everything else in Delhi is changing at a fast clip, these colonies provide an anchor to your childhood. This Delhi is frozen in time and it lets you take a ride in the time capsule to revisit your childhood. Most places still are as they were, almost unchanged, about forty years ago. There are more private vehicles now, when there were just a few scooters and an occasional sarkari Ambassador car.

Lodhi Colony is one such government colony. You would come here when visiting school friends or when you took some entrance exams in one of the several schools here. Just yards away from the happening Lodhi Road, tony Jorbagh and swish Golf Links, Lodhi Colony preferred its anonymity in the shadows of its quiet tree lined avenues. Yes, this indeed is one of the quietest places in Delhi.

But things are changing – some good and some not so good. Its markets like Meherchand Market, Khanna Market and Main Market today are hotspots for new posh restaurants and high-street fashion. People who could not afford the high rents of Khan Market have set up their shops here. Markets where the local people came to buy groceries and get their children’s school uniforms stitched are now frequented by high-heeled in their SUVs. Hauz Khas Village always gives you culture shock. You get your shock for the first time in Meher Chand Market today. Thankfully as you move away from the markets, the colony still harks back to the quiet and old school charm of your childhood. These are streets where you can actually walk like a pedestrian without getting knocked down.

There was this feature in Lodhi Colony architecture that always impressed you which set apart this government colony from the others. You do not think you have seen it anywhere else. It was these high walls facing the roads that apparently connected two blocks of houses. And in the middle of this wall was this high arch. Some of these arches are open like doorways while some arches have been bricked up at the bottom to look like windows. 

And now you have found out the reason behind the soaring arches. Lodhi Colony is the only government colony that was built before Independence. The colony was constructed in 1942 and was designed by William Henry Medd who worked with Lutyens and Baker during the construction of New Delhi. Medd had designed the beautiful Cathedral Church in the President's Estate. He brought in the same elements of vaulted interiors of the church to this residential colony. This is how Lodhi Colony got its this distinct feature of high walls and soaring arches with the keystone motif.   

These walls with arches forming sprawling canvasses have now attracted another set of people to Lodhi Colony - this time a bunch of artists who are adding colour to Delhi’s open spaces. St+Art Delhi is a non-profit organization that works on art projects in public spaces. Their mission is to make art democratic by taking it out from the galleries to open spaces within cities. This they believe will make art more accessible to common people.

A set of about 25 artists from across the world – India, Netherlands, France, Poland, Iran, Italy, Uruguay, USA, Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, Japan, Australia – have transformed the yellow whitewashed walls of Lodhi Colony into vivid and colourful art frames.

Talking to the people priming up a wall, you do realise that the entire project is a labour of love to transform Lodhi Colony into India’s first public art district. Of course, to execute a project of this scale and scope needs a lot of permissions and collaborations. The project has been possible because of coming together of number of partners that include Delhi Police, Municipal Corporation, CPWD, and Asian Paints.

The wonderful result is there for everyone to see. As you walk from street to street you can only marvel wide-eyed at the creativity of the artists – some frames are quirky, some abstract, some high on emotion, some send out messages while some are inscrutably fetching.

Somewhere it does feel like you are back in Rajasthan walking through the lanes of Shekhawati towns. Shekhawati, eat your heart out, now we too have an open air art gallery! Both places are the best examples of street art. While the frescoes of Shekhawati get repetitive after some time; here in Lodhi Colony, each wall is gloriously creative. In Lodhi Colony the art is proletariat while in Shekhawati the art is more bourgeois. Here the art connects the common people with their city creating ownership and bonds with the place they live in; while in Shekhawati it was more of one-upmanship, about my haveli being grander than yours. 

Here is a photo essay homage to these wonderful people spreading cheer in our cities and in our lives.

As colourful as a butterfly - Artist is Blaise from India

Portrait of a Lady named Vimla who works at Khanna Market selling paranthas - Artist is ECB Hendrik Beikrich

Trees - Artist name Amitabh Kumar from India

Jhansi Ki Rani with her baby - one of the earliest art here in Lodhi Colony

Lodhi Art District - Lodhi Colony walls have turned the table. The walls this time are clicking the so called photographers and selfie seekers walking around! The art is by Baroda's MS University students Avinash and Kamesh

The Lotus by Suiko of Japan

Symmetry Geometry Inspired by Aboriginal Art of Australia - Artist name is Reko Rennie from Australia

Few Good Men at Work - priming the canvas

Yes, We Love Delhi even more now - collaboration among painters Lek, Sowat (France) and Kureshi (India)

Billowing Faces - Artist name is Inkbrushnme from India

The art is by DWA ZETA (BAN ZBIOK)

Ticker Parade - Artist Dwa Zeta from Poland

Some Shekhawati Influence

Looks like a Silk Cotton Tree in full bloom - Artist name Anpu from India

Some real Silk Cotton Trees in the neighbourhood

That is a lot of birds homing in - Artist name is DaalEast

Heart Rules over Head! One of the most interesting and colourful compositions - Mother bird giving her heart to the baby bird? Artist name is Senkoe from Mexico

St+Art India: Feerless in Lodhi Art Distric, Lodhi Colony, New Delhi

No we do not have any effect of such messages; we love to litter - Artist name Kafeel

The Colonnade - Artist name is Borondo from Spain

These fingers are meant for talking - Padma Mudra Artist name Chifumi from France

Poetry / Calligraphy / Graffiti by Dutch Artist Niels Shoe Meulman: Sans Serifs no letters, and no words to read, sans words no sihns, no names in the streets, just rows of buildings, and garden sans weeds

One of the most dramatic arts - Astronaut who seems to have just landed on a meteor taking a view of Earth from high up. Artists are Swiss duo of Never Crew

St+Art Festival 2016 in Lodhi Colony, New Delhi

You have a special respect for these artists. Instead of painting in studios on canvasses that could be sold later, here they paint in the open, with no ownership of their composition and a creation that would last only till someone decides to whitewash the walls or stick posters on them. These artists are different. They believe in bringing transformation to our cities by involving each of us in their work. Their works thrill us, make us happy, and the city walls finally get some respect. The art works provide us new ways to celebrate our changing cities. Some changes are definitely good.  

Getting There: To reach Lodhi Colony, take Delhi Metro to Jorbagh and walk around the grid of perpendicular streets between Meher Chand Market and Khanna Market.

General Tips: 

  • There are around 22 finished frames while work is in progress on some walls. Despite your best efforts, you will miss a few but then you can always come back to find them along with some new completed ones.
  • Try climbing the opposite buildings for better frames
  • Wide lens will help capture the walls better

Lodi Colony by Ranjana Sengupta: City Improbable - Writings on Delhi


  1. Superb post! Loved those lovely lively paintings. Cheers to the artists and to your the efforts.

  2. Hi Siddeshwar,

    Thanks! Yes, yesterday’s underground art is now becoming mainstream. St+Art people are doing a wonderful job bringing artists from around the world who in turn are turning our cities into these wonderful open air art galleries. Same set of people have painted the biggest mural on Police Headquarters at ITO. Other locations include the urban villages of Shahpur Jat, Hauz Khas and few other places.

    In the coming days, the movement is expected to grow.

    This should be enough reason for you to come visit Delhi!

    Take Care,