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Art provides healing balm, inviting people to leave voicemail for someone they lost

By Gajanan Khergamker 

Probably the most peaceful yet powerful influence of Street Art can be gauged by Japanese garden designer Itaru Sasaki who initiated the Wind Phone project in 2010 to help cope with his cousin's death. After Itaru lost his cousin to terminal cancer, he set up an old telephone booth in his garden in December 2010, to continue to feel connected to him by "talking" to him on the phone. The wind phone was not designed with any specific religious connotation but as a way to reflect on his loss.
However, in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed over 15,000 people in the Tohoku region, including over 1,200 people in Ōtsuchi (about 10 percent of the town's population), he threw access to the structure open to the public. The wind phone since, received more than 30,000 visitors.
On 7 January 2017, strong winds blew off the roof of the wind phone and broke the glass doors. On hearing about it, local carpenters, including ones who had previously visited the wind phone, swiftly volunteered to repair it on 10 January 2017 and the wind phone was reopened by the very next day.
In April 2018, when Itaru announced the wooden and metal parts of the booth were deteriorating due to wear and tear of time, even after a new coat of paint, and that he hoped to replace the old booth with a corrosion-resistant aluminium booth, he received donations totalling about one million yen. Sasaki installed a sturdier aluminium booth in August 2018.
Over the years, a number of replicas have been constructed around the world, and it has served as the inspiration for several novels and films.
Poignantly, voicemails are entrenched in public memories of US citizens of 9/11. On that fateful day in 2001, cell-phone networks were overloaded as people all across New York City tried to get hold of their friends and family. For a few of the victims inside the planes and towers, leaving a voicemail was their last way of communicating with their loved ones, their final goodbye.
In 2021, in the weeks leading up to the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, an independent non-profit media, NPR set up an old phone booth, on the lines of Itaru’s Wind Phone, in Brooklyn Bridge Park — across the river from the new World Trade Center — inviting people to leave a voicemail for someone they lost that day.
Among hundreds who shared their stories and visited the phone booth were Trish Straine, whose husband died in the north tower just six days after their second son was born; and Matthew Bocchi, who was only nine years old when he lost his father in the attacks.

India holds distinction of housing oldest art

In any informed study of the history of Street Art, it would be pedestrian to trace the roots of Street Art to 1st Century BCE when Roman citizens scribbled messages to each other on dry brick walls, as is suggested in public domain.
India’s approach to Street Art has been legendarily descriptive and narrative rather than confrontational as is the wont of the nation itself, known for its non-violent, non-aligned, non-expansionist nature across the world.
For the record, cave paintings dating back to approximately 30,000 years in rock shelters, home to humans, millennia ago, make Bhimbetka, the oldest existing public art available. And, well in reach barely 28 miles (45 km) south of Bhopal, in west-central Madhya Pradesh state in India.
Discovered only recently in 1957, the complex is one of the largest repositories of prehistoric art in India. The Bhimbetka rock shelters form a canvas for some of the oldest paintings in India. Most of these are done in red and white on cave walls depicting themes and scenes like singing, dancing, hunting and other common activities of the people staying there. The oldest of the cave paintings in Bhimbetka is believed to be about 12,000 years ago i.e., 8,000 BCE.
The paintings have been divided into various periods like Upper Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Chalcolithic, Early History and Medieval history and are present in 500 caves out of the total of 750.
Bhimbetka is named after Bhim, among the Pandava brothers in the Mahabharata. Legend says that he used to sit outside these caves and on top of the hills to interact with the people in the area. The caves derive their name from this legend and translate literally into ‘Bhim’s Resting Place’.
Cave paintings show themes such as animals, early evidence of dance and hunting from the Stone Age as well as of warriors on horseback from a later time (perhaps the Bronze Age). The Bhimbetka site is one of the largest prehistoric complexes and has the oldest-known rock art in India.
The term ‘street’ itself is derived from ‘strata’, a short form of the Latin 'via strata', a road spread with paving stones. Why, the birth of Latin, as language itself, took place around 700 BC. In Bhimbetka, Street Art existed in 8,000 BCE, way before it came to be defined and known as such. (Part 6 of 6 | Concluded)
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Inputs: Manu Shrivastava, Nandini Rao, Sagarika, Anushka Singh and Ritika SethSpecial Thanks: James Colomina, Melodee Strong, Agata Oleksiak, Haider Ali and Rouble Nagi.
This report is part of The Art Of Cause Project - a DraftCraft International initiative that documents Art Projectsand Street Art campaigns that reach out, rectify and resolve strife, across the world.
Click here to download print version of this report

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