“Initiatives like Project MAD have a lot of power. People may say our generation isn’t going to amount to anything, but I think with a little creativity and help, we can all play an active part in the kind of society we want to be a part of.”

“Walls in this city are an attack on the senses. We complain, we cover our noes, and tiptoe around the dirt. But it’s time to stop turning a blind eye and actually make a difference.”

That’s how Project MAD (Murals and Doodles) came about. Started by Raashi Raghunath when she was only 17, this unique project is harnessing young people’s creative talents to brighten up their cities – as well as raise awareness about important social causes in the process.

Speaking to the IPF, Raashi said that she had seen wall murals in other countries and it got her thinking about whether the power of a painting could deter people from spitting or urinating on her city’s walls. Teaming up with three other students, Shlomoh Samuel, Aditi Monde and Tamim Sangar, Project MAD has completed 11 events and worked with 150 artists from Mumbai, India within just two years.

“I had seen so many college students who were insanely talented and saw this as a wonderful source of young talent to apply to the issue of community cultural development,” Raashi explained. “I wanted to mobilise fellow students to clean the city’s walls by giving them a chance to showcase their artistic skills on a large, permanent canvas that we hoped no one would maliciously dirty once it had been painted.”

Project MAD

Mumbai’s youth have decided to combine their artistic skills to beautify their city, while also raising awareness about important social issues. [Image credit: Project MAD]

Wall murals for social awareness

The 19-year-old Sociology student said that MAD initially began solely for the purpose of city enhancement. However, within one year they found themselves unable to stay neutral with their artwork and began to see art as a “powerful tool” that went beyond just beautification. By working alongside NGOs, MAD is able to get to the heart of some of the most pressing social issues and educate the public, while continuing to revamp the walls of Mumbai.

“We use our talent and initiative to provide a voice – through paint – for causes that we feel the city needs shoved in front of their faces.”

One of MAD’s projects involved raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and safe sex. Apart from touching on issues such as homosexual prejudices, the wall murals aimed to create a positive approach to sex education for all. Through the artwork, MAD hoped to make safe sex information accessible even to those who don’t have access to the internet to find out for themselves.

MAD also collaborated with NGO Urja to work alongside homeless women and girls, who were able to paint symbols that they thought empowered them. Another partnership, this one with NM College, saw MAD paint cartoons relating to gender equality onto a wall in an attempt to make the message easy to relate to for children.

Project MAD

One of the issues Project MAD focused on through their wall murals was raising awareness about HIV/AIDS. [Image credit: Project MAD]

Maximum impact through art

Rather than painting generic messages about water conservation and tree planting, MAD uses their murals to dig deeper into issues. They believe that each cause they take on needs to be painted in a way that allows passersby to connect with the issue, while also teaching them something new about it. In the process, artists who volunteer with MAD are also encouraged to focus on the issue they are painting about.

“We shift the artists’ level of involvement with the cause by not only making them learn more about it, but by also spending a few days working on the artwork so they have a better idea of what message will have maximum impact and what artwork will attract eyeballs.”

Raashi believes that art is the “perfect mixture of agency, aesthetics and action”, which allows her and her team to address different social issues through different styles, giving the artists enough flexibility to be aesthetically pleased with the quality of their murals. She also noted that the murals are the easiest way to gain attention for an important issue.

Project MAD

Project MAD hopes that their work will deter people from urinating and spitting on public walls in the city. [Image credit: Project MAD]

Mumbai’s reaction to Project MAD

“The response is astounding. People passing by stop [and] talk to us, take photos, or even ask to help paint. People like to see happy things and this is one such activity, which remains even when we’re done.”

Unfortunately, Raashi said that even the most beautifully painted murals are sometimes not safe from defacement. Her team has gone back to find spit stains, which they describe as their “moral enemy”, just weeks or days after it had been painted. They have spent a long time trying to figure out how to combat the issue, but despite not being able to find a solution, they have vowed not to let it stop them.

“We’re not fighting a few undisciplined vagrants. We’re fighting an urban mentality that disregards social action, does not connect with the artwork, and hasn’t been given a reason to treasure its public spaces. It’s definitely not going to change overnight.”

Despite this, the Project MAD team feels grateful that their work is tangible and publicly visible. They believe that this plays an important role in drawing people to their cause, as well as getting more people involved with the work they are doing.

“I love that MAD has slowly created a community of college kids that enjoy spending a Sunday a month painting a dirty, dusty public wall. I believe that it all has to start somewhere.”

Project MAD takes to the streets once a month on Sundays. If you’re an artist and interested in getting involved, reach out to them via their Facebook page.