wall art

An artist is pasting images of paintings from museums on Indian street corners

Julien de Casabianca 'rescues' the subjects of famous paintings from their frames and takes them for outings in the city.

When French and Corsican visual artist Julien de Casabianca visited The Louvre, a museum filled with the work of universally revered artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio and Rembrandt, he was inspired by an obscure painting featuring a beautiful young female prisoner. “I had a Prince Charming compulsion to liberate her from the castle,” he confessed.

While the urge to swoop in and save the damsel was a primitive one, de Casabianca’s idea of rescue was unusual – he photographed the painting, printed an enlarged copy of it and pasted it on an old and decrepit wall in Paris.

Langres, France. Image courtesy: Julien de Casabianca
Langres, France. Image courtesy: Julien de Casabianca

Inspired by “the power of the image on the street”, the 46-year-old journalist and filmmaker started Outings Project, a global initiative aimed at bringing museum works to city walls. Since the inception of his project in 2014, de Casabianca has pasted paintings in 40 cities, across more than 19 countries. He also clicks pictures of completed collages and publishes them online.

Wall as an interactive canvas. Image courtesy: Julien de Casabianca
Wall as an interactive canvas. Image courtesy: Julien de Casabianca

“Museums are about knowledge and preciousness, but when I take that one character out of the museum and give it to the street, the painting loses all questions of knowledge and value, it becomes only beauty,” de Casabianca said. Given his preoccupation with distilling each painting down to its pure aesthetic value, it is fitting that he prefers to paste them in poorer neighbourhoods, where he said, “people need beauty”.

Outings Project invites participation from anyone who has access to a camera phone and a printer. In some cases, de Casabianca assists them with the printing of the artwork. Participants from a diverse range of countries, including Paraguay, Ukraine and Tasmania, have contributed to the project with photographs of paintings, which they have displayed on walls in their cities. According to de Casabianca, social media, especially Facebook, has played a pivotal role in generating interest in the project, and is responsible to a great degree in expanding its reach.

Gdansk, Poland. Image courtesy: Julien de Casabianca
Gdansk, Poland. Image courtesy: Julien de Casabianca

An intrepid traveller, de Casabianca is careful not to restrict the Outings Project only to “rich and clean cities”. After visiting Hong Kong, Hanoi, Tokyo, New York, Jacksonville and Moscow in a single month, he travelled to India in January.

“It was great how I was welcomed in India,” he said. “When I said that I would just like to choose a wall with the people and offer it some character, it was great to see young and old people around me, encouraging and positive.”

While he was particular about pasting work painted only by local Indian artists, his selections were also influenced by “heart, emotions and feelings”. Most of de Casabianca’s pastings in India are Mughal miniatures. Apart from a portrait of Prince Khurram (who grew up to become the Emperor Shah Jahan) by artist Abu’l Hasan pasted in Goa, and a painting of Shah Jahan’s second son, Prince Shah Shuja, pasted in Mumbai, the paintings selected by de Casabianca feature unnamed men and women. He also selected an image of the Hindu goddess Kali in her avatar as Mundamalini, vanquishing the demon Mahishasura.

De Casabianca pasted nine paintings across Mumbai, Kochi and Goa, but published images of only eight on his website. “I didn’t like one finally, but people in the street can enjoy it anyway.”

Work in progress, Mumbai. Image courtesy: Julien de Casabianca
Work in progress, Mumbai. Image courtesy: Julien de Casabianca

Photographic representations of de Casabianca’s street art are pivotal to the project, and have ironically found their way back into spaces tailored to showcase art. Selected images of the paintings-as-photographs-on-walls have been displayed on the walls of museums and art galleries in Geneva, Brussels and Torreon.

The lines that separate art, street art and vandalism are amorphous, and deviate with the eye of the beholder. De Casabianca maintains that his penchant for weathered and damaged walls ensures that he does not unwittingly wind up vandalising diligently maintained property. The cracks and imperfections in the walls also provide a canvas, he said, which actively interacts with the paintings he pastes on them – de Casabianca painstakingly cuts the original background out of the image, while preserving the details of the person or character featured in it.

Cochin. Image courtesy: Julien de Casabianca
Cochin. Image courtesy: Julien de Casabianca

The artist ensures that the people featured in the paintings are anonymous. “It’s better to paste anonymous people,” he said. “If you paste some icons, some kings, Jesus or Mary, there’s a message added to your artistic act. That’s not my goal.” He also avoids paintings which are protected by copyright, restricting himself to the work of artists who have died more than 70 years ago. With the choice of his paintings, de Casabianca aims to rescue lesser-known images from obscurity, and provide them with a contemporary context.

Cochin. Image courtesy: Julien de Casabianca
Cochin. Image courtesy: Julien de Casabianca

Paintings are important slices of history, but when they are tucked away in the hallowed halls of museums, large swathes of people are unable to access knowledge about their own past. Outings Project removes art from places frequented largely by privileged art connoisseurs and pastes them on walls which are universally accessible, allowing lesser-known paintings to narrate neglected personal histories. With the project, de Casabianca hopes to bring art in the everyday lives of ordinary people.

Cochin. Image courtesy: Julien de Casabianca
Cochin. Image courtesy: Julien de Casabianca

“It’s just an opportunity for people to be connected with classical beauty, and to stop for few seconds on their walk to school or work, be surprised and feel a little bit happier,” he said.

Panaji, Goa. Image courtesy: Julien de Casabianca
Panaji, Goa. Image courtesy: Julien de Casabianca
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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.