June 10, 2015

Street-watching with ‘the meanest Indian’, Meena Kadri

by Anusha Narayanan

Meena Kadri, ‘the meanest indian’ on flickr, has a rather large portfolio of images from India – from portraits, travel, streets to stories. Meena’s work covers a myriad of striking visuals from across the country, including the lovable and kitschy Indian street graphics that we see every day. She has exhibited her work in numerous places and has written with publications, besides maintaining an effervescent blog called Random Specific. So we caught up with Meena and spoke to her about all things street-graphics…


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Tell us a bit about yourself 

I was born and grew up in New Zealand and get excited about the intersection of culture, communication and creativity. I’m equipped with liberal curiosity, an undergrad degree in Anthropology and a masters in Design. My decade as a graphic designer/creative director overlaps with another as an academic in design – in diverse global locations such as New Zealand, India and China. These days I work with IDEO exploring collaboration, innovation and social change. Over the years my professional pursuits have taken me from slums to museums, classrooms to boardrooms.

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What catches your eye? What do you like shooting?

I’m drawn to the street – and India provides ample colour, character and chaos. I like connecting dots between diverse yet repetitive sightings – whether it’s of tribal tattoos, cycle vendors or truck painting. I often shoot quite close up to isolate details which take on a new meaning through being called out.



What drove you to document Indian street graphics?

In 2002 when I came to India to work at NID, I didn’t find that local designers were so interested in street art. Having an outsider’s eye, I was taken by the flamboyant and pervasive nature of these decorative devices. I could see that times were changing with better access to digital production and felt a responsibility to document what I could while I was there. Some of this informed my work on Signwallahs: An Exploration of the Indian Streetscape which I later turned into presentations for typography conferences in Italy and the US.

As I was researching street painters, I began to working with some of them on art projects which applied their skills and methods to new contexts – later exhibited at the Glasgow School of Art and beyond. By the time I showed Overlap: Intersections of the Desi and Diasporic in Delhi there was much more local interest in street art. I’ve been amped to see Indian designers embracing new ways of showcasing and amplifying the talents of street painters. Though I’m still surprised when locals email me to find out to how to locate truck painters in places I’ve shot like Wadi Bunder in Mumbai. If I could track them down as a foreigner without speaking fluent Hindi nor Marathi, my main advice is to dial up your curiosity quotient and apply it on the street!

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What are your thoughts on the recent ban placed on the Horn OK Please signs? (These have apparently been placed because such signs encourages people to honk unnecessarily.)

I don’t really think that the Horn OK Please signage encourages excessive honking – which I’ve always found much more common in inner-city than on the open road where trucks are traversing. That said, I feel that truck painters have long been adaptively creative so I look forward to what new slogans and sign-writing will emerge. I’ve always been a bigger fan of creative exuberance than faded nostalgia. Rather than dwell on loss of the familiar, I’m excited about the new opportunities the ban might unintentionally unlock.



While we looked at street graphics, Meena has documented many more faces and places on her Flickr account. Click here and prepare to be lost for a while.

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1 Comment

  1. Bronwyn Martin



    a very interesting read about Meena and her projects

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