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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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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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.