The Wicked Broz is a Mumbai-based collective started by Omkar Dhareshwar, Zain Siddiqui and graffiti artist Zake, with the aim of filling every blank wall with colourful art. Launched about three years ago with just two other artists, Mooz and NME, their roster currently includes almost 20 artists from across the country, including Lobster, Minzo from Mumbai, T3K crew from Chennai, Flash from Nagpur and Shirin Shaikh from Solapur. They have also worked on multiple public projects in India and collaborated with international artists as well.
A lot of Omkar’s time is spent finding walls in the city that they want to paint over and then convincing people to let them do that; which isn’t always easy. “There are lots of misconceptions about graffiti. It’s only illegal if you do it illegally,” he says. But slow-moving bureaucracy hasn’t stopped them from working with local municipal corporations. The perception towards graffiti is slowly evolving. They have worked on some massive projects with the government like the Vashi wall, which is a half-kilometre stretch where you can see the work of artists like NME, Akill, Epoc, Mooz, Elmac, SajidWajid Shaikh, Sage and CreativeJunkie. Another is the Indore project (part of the Swaccha Bharat Abhiyaan) where you can see the ‘Journey of Man through the Sea of Knowledge’ by artists Zake, Dibs, Epoc, Flyin Munki, NME and Rez.
A couple of years ago, they took to the streets with a question mark campaign to protest the state of Mumbai’s streets. “The BMC chief had promised to fix all the potholes by the 31st of October, and they hadn’t. At about 11.30 in the night, we went from Churchgate to Virar and painted a question mark on every pothole we could see,” says Omkar. Historically, graffiti has been used widely to express dissent and address social issues. “There were instances when cops came by and started asking us what we were doing. Once we explained it, they ended up painting a few question marks themselves,” he says.
The biggest obstacle graffiti artists currently face is the price of the paints, says Omkar. Since the cans are very expensive, Wicked Broz balance their expenses by taking on commercial projects (in restaurants, clubs, etc.) and the leftover paints from these projects are put to use in beautifying neighbourhoods. While working for clients usually means adhering to their theme and design idea, they insist on creative freedom when it comes to public projects. “In some cases, like the Vashi project, they let us do what we want, without asking us for references or anything. They just trust us,” Omkar says. “but when we take over public places, we want to do what we want. Like we painted in a chawl in Marol recently with artists from Germany, Australia, Uruguay and Bristol and people really appreciated it. The government hasn’t done anything there in a long time, and so when we come and want to paint, it makes the residents happy.”
One of Omkar’s big dreams is to take public art into small communities and areas and get the locals involved. “If you ask the artists what their dream project is, they’ll probably pick big tall buildings and walls to paint, but I want to take over entire areas, so there’s more awareness about it,” he says. “People like art that they can understand.”
Wicked Broz are currently in the process of planning a festival at the end of the year that will include some jams with international artists. For now, Chilean artists Ricardo Santader and Gabriel Medrano have confirmed, and a few more will be confirmed soon. “We've got permissions for some walls already; we've got sponsors, we have like 15-20 artists. Now, we are working on getting visas for the artists and some government projects as well,” says Omkar.
To stay updated on their work and the festival, check out their website here.