I drew a sketch on a sheet of paper. A girl with long wild blue hair, running shoes in sight, dreaming of travel to distant places. In a few days, I would paint this image on one of the walls of the vibrant street art capital of Buenos Aires. The prospect was daunting, not only because this was my first tryst with street painting, but also because I was doing this while travelling solo.
For someone who has been a compulsive globe trotter, it was surprising to most that I hadn’t, until then, undertaken a solo trip. Time and time again, I had travelled to far flung places, stepping into the unknown, but only so long as it was within the cocoon of familiar company. The idea of solo travel was terrifying to me. It meant being vulnerable, isolated, with no one to watch one’s back, having to relentlessly stay present so that it becomes almost difficult to remember why one chose to do this in the first place. And yet, I knew that I was missing out on an experience. There was a part of me that desperately wanted to overcome that crippling anxiety, push through the walls of that sometimes-stifling comfort zone and experience the high that came with navigating a new land with nothing to rely on except one’s own wits. Without that experience I felt incomplete, a half-baked traveller.
It was early this year that I finally decided to take the plunge with VAWAA’s Vacation with a Street Artist in Buenos Aires. Four days with a local street artist called Pum Pum in Argentina. Four days working as an apprentice under one of the leading artists of an art form that had come to define the city. I was in equal parts excited and anxious. Would I enjoy the experience? Would I be alright alone? Would I stay safe? Would I want to pack my bags and head back home as soon as I landed? Thoughts whizzed around in my head intermittently on the long long flight from home.
And then I was in the city, in its heart, at Pum Pum’s door step ringing the bell and I could feel all those thoughts magically dissolve into nothingness. Minutes later, I sat on a couch in a quaint studio, nibbling on snacks, while sipping juice, feeling quite at home as I listened to a lovely Pum Pum explain all things street art, from its origin, its objective and the nuances that differentiate “Street art” from its less formal cousin, graffiti, to her own journey as an artist in a now crowded streetscape. I was engaged, engrossed, and quite effortlessly, completely in the moment.
In the four days that followed, I realised that creative vacations are ideal for the solo traveller. What worked for me was knowing that my travel had a purpose and in an unfamiliar, fluid setting, that purpose lent a sense of constancy. Each morning, I would go to Pum Pum’s studio and sketch out and discuss drafts of what would go on the wall on the last day, while simulations learning something more of each other’s lives so that by the time it was my third day in the city, I no longer felt like a tentative stranger or a drifting tourist, but a near local, part of its rich cultural fibre. Pum Pum doubled up as my friend and guide, someone watching my back, guiding me, recommending art museums, art shops and other interesting and relatively undiscovered places of interest that I would make sure to visit in the evenings. One such place was a café on a colourful block in Palermo. A haven for the city’s most well-known street artists, Hollywood in Cambodia, stood out with its walls dotted with eccentric, gorgeous, eye-catching art from all over the city. Pum Pum introduced me to the owner of the café and over beer, I learnt from them, a little of its history and the lives and work of some of the artists who had made it their home.
“Street art today is like fighting for your space in a lot of visual clutter,” Pum Pum had said on my first day in the city. “You have to make your mark.” It was my last day here and as I looked back at my painting on the wall, all finished now with Pum Pum’s help and guidance, I couldn’t help but feel glad that in this beautifully chaotic city, I had managed to find a little space and make it my own; gladder still that I hadn’t felt homesick even for a moment. I had made friends. I had embraced opportunities that had come my way. I had made my own decisions. I had pushed myself to experience something new.
I turned and walked onward, feeling a sense of freedom because I had done all this alone, and a new-found confidence that whatever lay ahead, I would find a way to steer.
Written by Sarika Pandit
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