Keeping India’s street art alive

Designer and artist Hanif Kureshi, who is preparing to exhibit his work at Alchemy 2014 in London’s Southbank Centre from the 15 to 26 May explains his current project and shares a few insights into his work, which aims to preserve the practice of hand-painted street signs in India and promote the importance of letters.

Why preserve hand-painted type?

India has a long tradition of hand painted type. Hand-painted signs used to be part of the landscape, but with digital printing street signs now all seem to look the same. I don’t think we should lose the unique character of our streets and why I am working to find ways of preserving our street painting tradition. Most of the painters across India have their own unique style and I think it would be such a shame if this wasn’t passed onto the next generation of designers.

Signboard from BikanerDigital printing and contemporary Indian culture

As our world becomes more and more globalised, I am concerned about how this affects our cultural identity. I would argue that our urban landscape plays quite a big part in our cultural identity. There is little point in fighting technological advances, so for me it makes sense to explore how to combine India’s unique cultural identity along with the technology that is contributing to making our world increasingly connected and homogeneous.

AAAAAATypeface in a global context 

Most of the typefaces and fonts that we use have been designed by either professional American British or European type designers; they aim for simplicity and homogeneity. The typefaces you see in my project reflect a very unique Indian aesthetic and the reactions I have received from outside India have been really interesting. The colours and shapes seem to evoke vivid emotions in people who perhaps haven’t been to India before: this is the beauty of the project.

The identity of typeface 

A street painter’s style is interlinked with their individual identity and background. An artist from North India will have a different colour scheme and form than an artist from the South. Each region also has their particular style of painting. Painters are very influenced by the people who taught them and there is a strong tradition of ‘master and disciple’. This tradition enforces a sense of identity and place in their work, which you don’t see with the generic fonts that we use at the minute. 

The power of letters

I come from advertising background where I was taught that the image is worth a thousand words. This may be true for advertising, but for me letters are always more powerful.As I said, they belong to an individual with an identity, sense of place and tradition. I don’t think an image can reflect the same emotion. I feel local script plays a very important role in every culture and we need to keep that sacred as digital can never express the emotion of human handwriting. 

Find out more about hand-painted type

Read more about Alchemy 2014

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