Chennai’s Kannagi Art District comes alive with a burst of colours and emotions


Chennai’s Kannagi Art District comes alive with a burst of colours and emotions

Thanks to an idea and an intervention

By Akhila Krishnamurthy  March 12th, 2020

It isn’t a matter of coincidence that the mural at the entrance of the Kannagi Nagar in Chennai, off the Old Mahabalipuram Road that houses the IT corridor, and considered one of the largest human resettlement sites in the country, is titled Allegra. Meaning joyful in Italian, this mural by Spain-based artist, Antonyo Marest, draws its inspiration from a coastal town called Thiruvalapatti, in Tamil Nadu and translates the colours and motifs of that town in this mural becoming a metaphor for the idea of joy in a community where unemployment, water crisis, crime and chaos co-exist with hope and aspiration.

“Almost like a gateway to a new world,” says Giulia Ambrogi, Festival Curator and Co-founder of St+art India Foundation. Ambrogi is taking us on a curated tour of the Kannagi Art District that opens its doors to people, welcoming them to peep into an alternate world and appreciate the potential and possibilities of how art can include, shape, heal and transform lives.

Kannagi Art District

The Kannagi Art District is yet another initiative by the St+art India Foundation and Asian Paints in an attempt to allow art to be accessible and bring it out to public spaces and allow for both artists and audiences to engage with it in ways that are open and democratic. Over three months, the core team worked closely with the people in this community and with a carefully curated team of national and international artists to realise the Kannagi Art District, India’s fifth public art district.

Curation is at the core of this art district that boasts of facades that lend themselves fascinatingly to murals that have the potential of becoming powerful statements and markers of identity. Across the many walls of the neighbourhood, bursts of colours and ideas come alive reinforcing the beauty of art and more importantly, the relationship of people and environment in creating a sustainable future.

Kannagi Art District

In what could be considered the community’s squareof sorts is a black-and-white mural of two little sisters whose smiles are near infectious. Equally interesting is a mural titled Harbouring Hope, a warm, glowing mural of a mother and child with the ocean for company and looking up at a gorgeous flower—a stunning statement on the interconnectedness between man and nature.

Simultaneously, in an attempt to celebrate the community, its people, their tradition, the Kannagi Art District also plays host to the Postcard Project—a set of postcards displayed on a cart for public viewing—an initiative of the Urban Design Collective in Chennai that chronicled the many games that the community plays in the form of postcards.

Kannagi Art District

Kannagi Art District

We visit the Kannagi Art District on a Saturday afternoon when the Women’s Day festival is in progress; the sun is beating down and there’s a buzz for the evening ahead where a host of events and performances by the local community and artistes are lined up. A stage is being set, children are playing around barefoot; women and men are going about their lives with a sense of purpose but at the same time, they are curious and excited about us—visitors—who have shown up to engage in the community. We look around and ask a few what they think of the transformation their neighbourhood has had. “Nalla irukku,” they say in Tamil. It means, “It’s good.”

After all, who wouldn’t appreciate a dash of colour, a tiny ray of hope in their lives?

Photographs: Karina Joseph