This piece uses the post office building to display a visual letter that Bangalore, especially Malleswaram, requests from its residents about its aspiration, history and present.
Geechugalu: You have been one of the early upholders as well as an artist in the collective, how has your journey been so far in the public art domain?
Abhijeet: It has been an organic experience. Firstly, this traces back to the end of 2016, my second year of College had ended, and we were inspired by the public art that was happening around us. A desire to paint on a larger surface, led to joining the movement that was happening in Bangalore around that time which included painting all the old walls and creating new spaces. That fever kind of caught on to us, and we started the collective’s work at Dhanvantri, which slowly started growing, followed by brief collaborations with Art in Transit and now turned into the current project that is Malleshwaram Hogona.
That sense of being a member in the collective has always been there, though it hasn’t burdened any of us. It’s a good balance between coming together and doing private work. It’s a good rhythm.
Geechugalu: Being an artist in the street art movement, are there any precursors to mural making that you would like to share with an aspiring artist community?
Abhijeet: Don’t get into the extreme details of it, because the whole idea of making a mural is to view it from a vantage point. The primal idea of it is viewing it from a distance, it will be watched from a certain angle or point, and so what’s the best that the image that is in my head can look.
That would be the general guideline, but I think restricting it would take away the general beauty from it. That can be the exoskeleton, and the art can be just filled in, however they want to go about it. Treat the space optimally and respond to your surroundings. Your canvas is in a specific space, it doesn’t move, it’s a part of one atmosphere, so you have to understand what that atmosphere is, how things respond in that atmosphere, and accentuate that piece. So it’s about treating the walls according to their surroundings.
Geechugalu: Are there any nuggets with the locals that you would like to share?
Abhijeet: Inherently, we know of Malleshwaram as one of the most culturally significant places of Bangalore, but it is a religious powerhouse of the Hindu community of Bangalore, especially the Shaiva Brahmins who are very much inclined into religious activity. The energy of Malleshwaram is somewhat restrictive, but has a very specific identity. It doesn’t feel insecure in anything, it does not need approval from others. It’s confident, it’s erudite, it doesn’t need more from others. It has a strong sense of identity, and is a religious centre.
That’s the way I responded to it. Although, even if I wanted to make an honest depiction of something I see, either political or anything, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that there, you have to tone it down. You have to convey your message in a subtler way, without rubbing people the wrong way. Malleshwaram is a sensitive place and you have to be very thorough and specific about what you want to depict there. It’s too beautiful to be political around there.
Geechugalu: What were some of the factors that kindled your process and inspiration behind your piece?
Abhijeet: My story is a bit complex, initially I was told it would be nice if I painted the library building, I was asked to send an iteration for the India Post building. I had two photographs that were sent to me, I had no idea what they were, I had never gone there or passed by the space, for me to really know how the atmosphere would be around there. So I created something which was somewhat based in Indian philosophy, but was a little too intellectual, so I had to wait and send another iteration.
When I visited the site after more than two years, it was such a different space, and I felt like I had to respond to the space, I understood I needed to re-evaluate my thinking. Because they are very narrow conservancy lanes, India Post was at one of these corners, so I had to think in a way that would make sense there, which I couldn’t do through photos. Since my wall was close to the post office, Yash dropped the idea, why don’t I do something postcard related. So I went to the post office, bought some postcards, inland letters, stamps and realised that these are things that we forget, people don’t know what inland letters are anymore, I remember my father had written one to my aunt, but that’s the only memory I have with them, so it’s also bringing back the idea of something that we don’t use any longer.
That’s why I picked up the idea of a postcard, touched upon the exact iconic shade, the yellow. The images of gods and goddesses below, looked like stamps. My idea was bringing nostalgia through old Bangalore, and how the idea of a postcard is a forgotten one. In the postcard itself, one can see the image of an old forgotten Bangalore that we no longer see, much like the postcard.
I wanted to depict that with a water buffalo and a lake, with one of Bangalore’s Kempe Gowda towers in the back and the crescent moon in the night sky, an iconic Malleshwaram thing, a very Shiva influenced iconography. Even the buffalo is a very sensitive subject in South India because of its close relation to Mahishasura, the demon that was slayed by Banashankari Devi who is considered as the incarnation of Goddess Parvati, who becomes furious and assumes the form of Durga.
I wanted to relate the mythological story, with the icon of Mahishasura, and throw light upon why his being is depicted as ignorance and egotism, and how the buffalo as an animal is considered dense. But at the same time in reality, we milk the buffalo, use it for ploughing our lands, we give it this idea of ignorance and yet we reap benefits from it. So to me, it made sense in the form of a story, but at the same time we see its implications happening in front of our eyes. Using the same ideology with the buffalo there and then putting a stamp of Banashankari, as Goddess Durga, worked as a form of satire. The tiles of the gods underneath, which were probably put to stop people from peeing there, look like stamps as well. It also ties to that idea of how Hindu mythological stories can be addressed to each situation in our lives, to make sense of moral values back then.
Geechugalu: Had there been any challenges that came up in executing a mural piece in a public space in a state of pandemic?
Abhijeet: At first, it was acquiring the permission for the wall. I had finished my subsidiary work, but later I had actually started a bigger piece. But by the time it was almost finished, I got Covid, so the story is unfinished for my main work, as for now. I didn’t face any major problems, but because it was Ugadi time and Malleshwaram has one of the most beautiful and biggest markets, it was almost like people forgot that there was a pandemic. It was very nerve racking every time I got off the auto.
The conservancy lane where we were on, was parallel to the main road of the market, so many people would pass by, and we had to be careful. For me work wasn’t very difficult, but just getting to work and breathing was difficult. But otherwise, everything was beautifully arranged in terms of logistics, so kudos to Hari for super smooth work, and Yash for coordinating everything so well.
Geechugalu: Are there any changes you have witnessed personally in the locale, and if any, what are the changes you would wish to see through your art intervention in the space?
Abhijeet: Before the paintings were painted, they were mere walls, people would simply park next to them, spit on them or throw garbage. But you can see after so much work being done, people are more sensitive to the spaces. My site was on a narrow conservancy lane, where not much activity happened. But works which were on bigger iconic places, like Anpu’s work which shows the woman taking a stride in her slipper, people stopped parking around there. People actually started being more genuinely respectful to the space, which was beautiful to watch, because you’re gentrifying the space in a respectful way, by cleansing it, and giving value to it. When people see that value, they respect it and respond to what is there.
Anpu’s work was iconic, it is like the poster child of Malleshwaram Hogona. The effect it has created there is impactful, because it’s such a sensitive space. Seva Sadan, which is a very service based organisation that helps orphans, supports women empowerment and education of women and children, is a very feminine space where women work and spend a time of service. The work shined, responded to the space, branded the place and created a safe space for women.
The changes that I wish to see through my own art intervention, would somewhat be a sort of cleansing of the space and giving value to it in an artful way, which perhaps is the motive of any street art.
We’ve seen it happen, from our own interventions from Dhanvantri, to Chickpete and Malleshwaram, every piece that has been done has intervened with the space. Like how in Chickpet, with my own story, I attempted to feminise the space with bright flowers, remembering how earlier it used to be such a loud- toxically masculine, pan spitting, garbage dumping space. It could just be treated as a passing space where men would carry things to KR market, and dispose of things in between. And to see how the building of the metro station with murals on top had affected that space.
Giving value to a space, be it a building or a wall, is what street art for me is. Cleaning is my core, and to cleanse anything, you have to nourish it and give it value. That’s how I view my practice too, when I indulge in street art. The projects that I have worked on have never been commercial or about making a place scenic in a way. It has always been dirty spaces, spaces which have been forgotten or lost their value overtime because of their physical boundaries, where they reside. So it has always been those transitioned spaces for me, a sort of clean up.
Geechugalu: Describe a significant event that occurred as part of your public art experience.
Abhijeet: Personal anecdote- I got so indulged in painting, there was this old man who was so moved by what I was doing, that he just sat there for an hour or so, appreciating the painting everytime. He was so bothered by me rubbing my face with my shirt, so he offered me a spare cloth.
It was funny how receptive the whole area was. Even during mid-time pandemic, everybody was happy and receptive to our activities.
For my piece, a significant content of the postcard came from the temple that was parallel to India Post. My wall is on the back side of India Post. In front of India Post, there’s a beautiful temple of Ganesha in which there is a small idol of Banashankari Devi (Goddess Parvati).
Initially, I was just roaming around, feeling the space. I had gone to the temple, when I saw that idol at first, it was so beautifully maintained, and I was so charmed. I was fascinated by how beautifully the temple was maintained. I also have a fascination towards reading about shrines within a city, so I was searching for all the Devi temples in Bangalore, and came across a strange funny comment that I’d read that people posted everywhere saying, ‘Devi is very strong in this temple’ and saying it casually, it’s a lingo they have in Shaktikut that ‘Devi is strong’, so it’s almost like a charged entity. It’s not like they don’t believe that it’s an incarnation, but believe that Devi is an energy; is what the Shakti people believe. They believe in an energy, which fascinated me, and when I read about it, I wondered if the beauty and maintenance in the space was reflected in that charged energy.
It gave me a lot of insight on cult following in Bangalore, Shakti worshippers, Shaiva worshippers, Vaishnavs, all these. Although very political, it became vivid like how we have political parties now, back then what these aspects were. It was cool to see Bangalore in this new light. It’s somewhat clear to me now what they worshipped, what their beliefs might be, also through their interactions. If I see a local now, and have a little bit of information on their beliefs and their histories, I can see where they come from, so that’s interesting on a personal level.
Geechugalu: What have been some of your fond memories in Malleshwaram?
Abhijeet: Malleshwaram has a strong identity, and although being an outsider, I have shared some fond memories with the space, and going there with friends. Malleshwaram is a place that’s easily accessible, which speaks for itself and responds to everything that surrounds it. It has a rich history with numerous temples, with strong cultural vibrance. As an outsider, I love it.
Geechugalu: Was there a moment when you felt vulnerable or found difficulties during this project? Are there any other places you’ve painted at where you felt similarly? Is there any specific way you dealt with it or wished you would have?
Abhijeet: Being in Malleshwaram, was not at all difficult. There was this sense of security that nothing wrong could happen, since it is such a homely, manicured space. I think having the male privilege somewhat minimises those vulnerabilities of being on the street. I don’t think males are that susceptible to the kind of events in public that women may face in public. Being an effeminate guy, I don’t come across any inappropriate behaviour in public, but I think women are susceptible to them somehow.
In our previous interventions at Dhanvantri and Chickpete, we put ourselves up against spaces which were dark and dingy and isolated, so you run under a risk of theft and unsanitary conditions since you’re working in dirty spaces.
But when we were working at a time of a pandemic, with masks on, and following covid protocols, things were a bit relaxed. The dirt and the environmental risks at such a time were expected, but by then a lot of us were acclimated to the health protocols. As an artist, you have to leave that dirt behind, and make sure you yourself don’t leave with any residual muss.
Maintenance of paints is essential, a great deal of acrylic paint goes into water, and all of it goes into gutters. So we need to be mindful of those things.
Geechugalu: How was your experience with Bengaluru Moving x Geechugalu at Malleshwaram?
Abhijeet: Excellent, no complaints. Everything was arranged beautifully, from discussions till the end of execution. Right from the starting point, everything was well taken care of, and so very refined.