If you’ve ever strolled along the Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, you would’ve noticed its sidewalks bedazzled with terrazzo and brass stars, that are both, a concrete manifestation of Hollywood celebrities’ legacies and a kitschy tourist trap.
Now, a movement brewing in Mumbai, India’s own city of stars (the Bollywood kind, of course), is tapping into this idea. Except, it substitutes the celebration of monument-worthy achievers to warn against their shitty behaviour by literally embedding their name alongside a stencilled three-tier pile of poo that looks like it’s been freshly offloaded, flanked by a couple of roaches.
Welcome to India’s “Walk of Shame”, a crowdsourced platform of dissent meant to call out problematic public figures accused of spreading false propaganda or just generally letting down the very people who had high hopes from them.
Ideated and orchestrated by an Indian guerrilla artist who goes by the street name Tyler, the Walk of Shame asks Instagram users to pick out the influencer they want to call out. The idea is to crowdsource public opinions through polls on Instagram stories or comments sections, which Tyler then translates into bright yellow blobs displaying the names of the accused propagandists on a chosen sidewalk.
“To muzzle the voice of dissent, several students and activists are constantly being targeted and thrown in jail even amidst COVID-19 lockdown,” Tyler tells VICE, explaining how recent crackdowns on students and academics, who were protesting India’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act earlier this year, led him to re-imagine platforms of protest. “The idea behind this initiative is to connect people, by calling out the shameless public figures in the most non-violent way.”
Tyler—also known as Mumbai’s Banksy for his stencilled works—believes that street art can connect more people to a cause than keyboard activism, stressing that a crowdsourced project can lead to more ownership by the public when it comes to the issues that plague the society at large.
Not one to shy away from taking on controversial political issues, Tyler’s art has previously addressed everything from Hindu extremists who’ve lynched Muslims for not saying “Jai Shri Ram” (a praise for the Hindu lord Ram) to the divisive nature of Indian politics.
On August 15, India’s 74th independence day, Tyler unveiled his first Walk of Shame tile dedicated, by popular demand, to news anchor Arnab Goswami. Goswami, who leads prime-time screaming matches (which some confuse for debates) on Republic TV, a mainstream media channel often accused of being biased to the right-wing and spreading misinformation. Goswami is regularly called out for his anti-minority rhetoric and blatant support for India’s ruling party.
After receiving an overwhelming response, Tyler’s next tribute was to Sudhir Chaudhary, the editor-in-chief of Zee News, one of India’s most-watched news channel that fact checkers and even the police have pulled up for spreading lies, especially against India’s Muslim community.
But the buck doesn’t stop here.
“A few weeks or months later, imagine a street famous for having the names of the most notorious and shameless people in the country painted on it, based entirely on people’s opinions gathered from a simple voting method,” says Tyler when asked about what he envisions the initiative could achieve.
Having managed to stay anonymous for almost a decade, despite being harassed and threatened for street art some consider “too political” for criticising the government, it’s probably safe to assume that Tyler follows the same practice of staying anonymous as he has in previous projects: dressing in something inconspicuous, with sneakers that can facilitate quickly sprinting away if he were to get caught. Tyler also advises that all guerrilla artists like him who wish to stay anonymous should wear a face mask, something social distancing guidelines already ensure.
He is also choosing to keep the exact location of the Walk of Shame a secret, though we imagine it’s about to become a regular feature on Instagram feeds of those who come across it.
For Tyler, the Walk of Shame has always been a form of democratic dissent. It’s meant to be an extremely public way to name and shame figures across industries like journalism, politics and Bollywood who the public feels betrayed their trust and spread propaganda that caused widespread destruction, violence, animosity and just plain stupidity.
Though he doesn’t quite have a cap on how many tiles he wants to stencil out for his Walk of Shame, Tyler is aiming to pull off at least 25. Other nominees for his project include Indian actor Akshay Kumar, who often takes up films that closely resemble propaganda for India’s ruling party, Hindustani Bhau, the toxic right-wing YouTuber with a foul mouth bound to piss off any feminist, and Prakash Javadekar, India’s Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, who has been criticised for pushing a problematic environment proposal that could cause immense ecological damage.
“It's only with the unanimous involvement of the people, anything like this can be achieved,” shrugs Tyler. “This is a classic example of art for the people, by the people.”
Follow Shamani on Instagram.