Chennai by Rio Farabi


Chennai by Rio Farabi

A visual tour of Chennai, India

by Ken Jenie


Looking at Chennai from our car window, at a glance this city seems to be filled with old buildings from a time that has long passed. Although there is a fair share of architecture from the 80s and 90s, the modern millennial skyscraper is a rare sight. We can see construction from recent years, but even their facade resemble buildings from 80s and 90s. Strange, but true.

As I took a leisurely walk around this city, I felt as if I was strolling through Jakarta in the 80s. If the streets didn’t have its share of modern automobiles I would have thought I have been transported to 1985. Aside from the architecture, costumes that the locals donned also gave the same ‘antique’ impression. Almost all of the men wore dress shirts and trousers, while the large majority of women young and old dressed in traditional sari. You can find some of the youth in t-shirts and jeans, but not like the tight-fitting clothes popular among hip Jakartans. The designs they wore seemed out of date. I don’t mean to offend, and I certainly am no high fashion expert, but at a glance it is as if the people’s taste in fashion did not go beyond the 90s. Cutbray jeans, baggy shirts and sandals (no brand names such as homyped, carvil, etc) – There were also quite a lot of people that walked barefoot. Pretty extreme.

Looking at another aspect of this city, I was truly amazed by the imagery found through out Chennai. Colorful store signage, printed advertisements, political posters to illustrations on trucks and buses can be found all around the city, competing for our attention. And on top of this crowded, colorful visual melee was the hustle and bustle of Chennai’s citizens.

In Chennai, the language they use is Tamil, not Hindi, so almost all illustrations found in the city uses Tamil. This alphabet, or font, is one of the key elements that made Chennai visually so different from Jakarta and other cities in the world.

One more thing that grabbed my attention was many of Chennai’s wall painted with advertisements, propaganda and other graffiti that I did not understand. The Tamil writings glowed with fluorescent colors, and along the walls you can see rows of contrasting colors from different murals. This is what Chennai is like visually. Political murals show appealing portraits of candidates everywhere. The artists that create these murals have the ability to paint images of candidates with expressions of optimism, peace, and friendly auras. The oil paint-pieces (seen from the glossy effects) are expertly brushed. I am willing to wager that it took no less than 3 weeks to finish these approximately 3×15 meter-murals.

The colorful images found throughout Chennai complements the hustle and bustle of the city. It is evident that Chennai’s community needs a bold alphabet and colors that can match the equally busy activities of the city.

Chennai is a big city that is busy and alive, it is like the work Raymond Pettibon, but brighter and more colorful.

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