“Once upon a time, there was a tree”
The Sampige ﬂower is such a deep part of Malleswaram that a main road, Sampige Road, is named after it. The many deeply fragrant Sampige trees lining these roads have disappeared. This mural is an attempt to capture nostalgia and create a sensory visual experience.
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?
Chandana: I’ve enjoyed working on both the projects, Dhanvantri being the logistics one, and the recent one being in Malleswaram. We had a backing in both the projects, the one in Malleswaram was backed very well, and we had permissions. It is difficult to compare them or talk about both of them in the same way because Dhanvantri near Majestic, out rightly, is not an area with an extremely well to do crowd. It’s a mostly struggling day to day crowd, and that’s the crowd we saw with passengers passing by in the buses.
Malleswaram comprises the most elite crowd that one can come across, but sometimes people can be manner less, either way. One thing that’s common in both areas; it may be too harsh to express, but the environment out there can be very idiotically creepy. Although Malleshwaram which seemingly consists of an educated crowd, people turned out to be creepy in an unpredictable way. Whereas Dhanvantri near Majestic, is some place where some person can be flashing or peeing in a corner, or asking for your number, things like that. So it can be subtly creepy.
When the creepiness is absent, the response to the work that goes on to those walls, is figurative. It is a response where the public is actually happy that something nice is happening. So that response is what makes me forget the other things. I’m able to push them aside and get on with the project, because of pleasant experiences and the way people feel about those walls. If people were not so encouraging and not so happy with what they saw, then it would have never been easy.
In Majestic when it wasn’t a paid project, when we called for volunteers, people came from far away, of different age groups, from different parts of town, which was very encouraging to see. Those people were doing it for the cause and for me that was reassuring. Even in Malleswaram, it was the same. While painting, people were getting their hands dirty even during Covid, but the team made an effort and made sure everyone had their masks on throughout, and practiced minimal contact. When we called for volunteers, there were so many who came, and even after the call for volunteers ended, so many people had sent in their messages, but we tried to accommodate most of them and kept them in the loop.
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?
Chandana: When you look at public art and consider making public art, I think it’s extremely important for a person to look beyond one’s sketchbook. Because that’s a small set in the studio; with us catering to whatever comes to our head or what the flow looks like on paper. But when we go to a public space, it’s about the workforce, it’s the people who live there. So it’s important to keep a certain fantasy picture aside, but instead if we can articulate their stories in our styles, whatever it may be, then there’s nothing like it. But it’s extremely important to be astute in a public space which is so bare and highlighting everything that’s going on. It’s crucial to understand people’s stories, listen to them and read up about things. The number of times we walk to each site, the number of people we talk to, conversations concerning histories, current situations, and exchange of constructive criticisms have all been crucial. So we’ve come a long way like that.
The most crucial bit when it comes to public art and its stakeholders, had been working on different lines – acquiring finances and permissions which had been the most difficult, a front where I have tried to be in as a creative side, which is also not something that can be escaped in such projects.
For the first project, I remember going to the MLA’s office directly for permission and going to Vidhan Soudha, to see if we could get more funding. The thing is, not every visit is going to be successful. In that project most of the visits that I was a part of, hadn’t been very fruitful but we did what we could, so that’s good.
But with the Malleshwaram project, there were so many collaborators, so it was all taken care of. Yash being the creative lead, held most conversations with Janet and Hari coming into picture, so they all buffed it down. Everything was arranged in a way so that the artists had their space to articulate and tell the story. I think without that kind of a role, it can be very difficult for most artists to work. But some are extremely talented in a way that they can do wonderful artwork, also manage to do all the running around and have conversations with multiple stakeholders.
But speaking for myself, I cannot. I can do either one. Being an introvert, I do enjoy sticking to my own creative process rather than running around to get work done. But as you said, having been one of the early upholders one has to do that, it’s a responsibility of a kind that comes along with the whole scene.
Geechugalu: Had there been any challenges that came up in executing a mural piece in a public space in a state of pandemic?
Chandana: Speaking for myself, the only challenge would be that if I said that I didn’t have any, that would be such a lie. The thing is, the way in which this whole project was organised and planned, was just so good. We had 15 days to finish a mural, I was able to finish mine in four days. I was doing a full time job and taking alternate days off to come and paint, and the paid volunteers helped a lot. Time was managed very efficiently, and Yash kind of pushed the volunteers one day to my wall and then it blew up. I didn’t realise it would take such a brief time but it blew up, and the work was done way ahead of time. My piece is about Sampige; the leaves, the flowers. All the leaves, the filling up was done by all the volunteers. On all four days I was focused on finishing up the work where I left the outlines. But otherwise, I don’t really remember filling up the leaves, because it was taken care of so well. So the management, the organisation, the team that had worked on this project, made sure that everything went smoothly, and it kind of did.
But there was a responsibility in the time of a pandemic that came in making sure that the message was conveyed that people should wear masks and maintain social distance even while eating, because if we moved from different sites, we could actually spread Covid. The project was for 15 days, and it was so difficult for people to get the point that they shouldn’t be moving from one site to another, but I don’t think it stopped anyone, unfortunately. It was something that we were always trying to put across to the new team. Around the same time as the project, a friend of mine who I met for four-five minutes, tested Covid positive. As soon as I got to know that, I ran to the hospital and got the test done. I think that served as a wake-up call for me and everyone. After that we decided we’d be a little more careful.
A little while later, Vyas’s result came, so he had been away from the site for a while. But because this project involved people and recruiting them, the community was actively involved in the process of getting everyone tested for Covid, so thankfully whatever had to be done, was done in time. As soon as Vyas got a headache and fell ill, he stopped coming because he didn’t want to risk others and he’s very responsible like that. It took two to three days for the reports to arrive, that’s exactly when the whole project had to be paused, but getting people to understand the existence of Covid during these times and taking precautionary measures were the only challenges that were faced during this project.
Geechugalu: What were some of the factors that kindled your process and inspiration behind your piece?
Chandana: As soon as I got to know that we had a project in Malleshwaram, I had Sampige flying around my head, but then it felt like that was cliché. But now, I think I’m going to accept the fact that I love clichés. I went to the site and thought about thinking out of the box, so I would go for two-three walks every day before work, Vyas and a couple of us would just hang out in the mornings in Malleshwaram. I would try deliberating and understanding every possible element, and end up with Sampige in my hand, either from the tree or from the market. That is exactly how I would go back to work and use the Sampige on my table as inspiration, and it’s sweet smell would just linger around. About 4-5 years back, I had done a miniature version of Sampige; approximately 2cm x 4cm, and I had written a cute story around it when I posted it on Instagram. I didn’t think years later, it would blow up to be so big, like now. I grew up in Mangalore, I lived in Malleshwaram for about 11 months, and in 2011, I spent the first year of my college in Bangalore. Girls’ hostel was very far away from College, so Malleshwaram was where we lived. So every time I had to pacify my mother, I would grab a bunch of Sampige and go, and it worked all the time.
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?
Chandana: I don’t remember walking by that particular lane in my early days, where we painted in Malleshwaram recently, but the idea of the whole project was to make these places more accessible to people, especially for women to feel comfortable in walking around. In Malleshwaram, we have many pedestrians walking on foot, so these lanes are pretty fine. I would be completely fine with walking on the roadside in the lanes during the day, but maybe in the late evenings it still may be hard. There was so much work going on out there; it’s funny how when we started painting in Majestic, the whitetopping on the roads was being done, and when we started painting in Malleshwaram on the conservancy lanes, and they were getting their whitetopping done as well. So wherever Geechugalu goes, the roads get whitetopping. So it’s an omen for good roads, wherever Geechugalu goes, I believe.
There was a sense of sharing the same goal amongst collaborators and all; for the roads to be safer and warmer. I could have painted any social cause, or narrated any stories of Malleshwaram in a graphic form, but during the pandemic I wanted to portray something fresh. We had so much activity all around after so long, so I didn’t want my work to be the voice of a banner, I wanted my work to be a pacifying agent. So when people look at it, they feel a little warm, and think of all the things that they probably associate with it or take away something to learn from it. That was my purpose and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.
Some of the people told me that they actively felt good about it, the kids had no idea what a Champa flower or Sampige flower looked like. When I was having conversations about the flowers, there were comments from a kid towards my mural who said, ‘it’s a Banana’, but his granddad corrected him by saying it’s a Sampige flower. So it’s not just a nostalgic process to think about, but it’s also an educational image.
Even in biodiversity, so many things are getting endangered, Sampige doesn’t fall into that extreme category as a species, but it’s also not something that you see as often anymore. People aren’t so used to it and most of them don’t know what it is, so it’s a conversation starter. When the conversation comes into picture, it’s also the beginning of questions. Street art is the beginning of a conversation, a beginning of a question.
And whenever it’s a very open minded conversation, I see beauty in that kind of growth.
That’s the reason why even if the conversation turns creepy at times, I still continue them, you don’t know where it will work. Because at some point when your approach to a conversation is very different, and when the other person is trying to be creepy, there comes a time when they kind of stop doing that and take it seriously, respect and appreciate it. It’s also completely subjective how you perceive such a thing.
Geechugalu: Describe a significant event that occurred as part of your public art experience.
Chandana: The way people see and when they share their reviews about the work that has gone on the wall, nothing else is as significant as that, and when people can relate to your work.
My work can stay in the book and that’s for me, but when I put it on the wall, it does not have my authority. Once it’s done, it’s not mine anymore, it’s for the public to decide if they’ve accepted it or not.
Here Sampige is not just a representation for Malleshwaram, but in some way, it’s also very personal for me. All the other projects which we have done so far, were all very well organised, and this project had been completed with the same vigour. The distribution and allocation of roads and sites, which can be a strenuous task, had been handled really well. We were all answerable for the whole thing, which is extremely important as an artist when we’re working on a public project; you’re still answerable to the team, but you’re also answerable to the whole public. There may be one spokesperson, but all of us are answerable for the work that has been done. So it’s very important to have a clear idea of what you’re doing.
Geechugalu: Do you carry any personal connection with Malleshwaram? If yes, then what have been some of your fondest memories in the space?
Chandana: I’d like to make clear that I’m a sensorial person and I please my senses all the time. It could be my taste buds, my nose or my visuals, what I eat, what I smell. I have had this realisation very recently that I’m all about my five senses, and working on my sixth one, my intuition, but that’s a side story.
My earliest memories of Bangalore, have Malleshwaram in them. Not because my parents lived there, but because we used to get this fresh butter from Malleshwaram. There is this store called Lakappa store, which is right in front of CTR. CTR used their butter from the same place, which is from Nala Mangala Palo – a taluk, a town having many villages that come under it. The butter is sourced from there, and we have been making Ghee at home from the very same butter for the last 35 years or so. Even when my dad travelled all the way from Bangalore to Mangalore, he’d make sure he brought a container along, since back then, they wouldn’t provide containers, so this butter would be wrapped in Banana and Areca nut leaves. Areca nut leaves were used for plates, and the same were used for wrapping the butter. It used to be so good, my dad would travel all the way from Bangalore to Mangalore without it getting leaked, which is one of the earliest Malleshwaram memories that I have.
When I came to Bangalore, I would go to CTR and it felt like home, not because the dose is so good, but also because that butter is so familiar. That’s the kind of butter I grew up eating, from which the ghee was made at home, it has a very distinguishable smell and taste. Back then when I entered CTR, I didn’t know that the butter came from Lakappa store, I just knew that it came from Malleshwaram. So I told my mother one day, that I came across this ‘butter’ in a place called CTR, which tasted similar to Lakappa store and that’s when she told me, that’s where we get our butter from and that CTR gets it from the same place. I was so mind blown, I didn’t even know. It started a whole different conversation, and following that, there were so many evenings when me and my friend would have dinners at CTR. We’d take walks around Malleshwaram and eat Amrit Kulfi, which was very close to where I lived. Amrit ice cream is a very famous store in Malleshwaram which makes delicious home-made ice creams. Very ancient, just like Lakappa Store and CTR.
These are the old stores that still appeal to my taste buds and senses, and then obviously the Sampige flowers. When my dad would come home with the butter, I knew for sure that the bag would have Sampige somewhere in it as well, and the whole house would smell of it. Malleshwaram to me, meant butter and Sampige. So the smell came along with the butter, there would be a little flower packed for my mother. So the smell, taste and visuals were memorable.
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?
Chandana: Maybe, when the conversations ended up becoming creepy. The thing is that those conversations will hit you in the face very unexpectedly, and that is when one feels vulnerable. When a conversation in the beginning that was very deep, intelligent, very to the point and comfortable, suddenly takes a turn and a question turns to ‘Can I take your number?’, not because it’s related to the work that you’ve done, but just because they’re in a conversation with you and would like to take things forward. So I have to deny such people, I don’t like to be in a place where I have to say no, but circumstances like these are an exception.
There were many people who asked me for my number because they wanted to get in touch with the project lead or were looking for contractors, so it’s okay for them to ask me for my number as someone who is accountable for the project. In such cases, I’d give my number or someone else’s, depending on how comfortable I feel with it.
But this incident I had was different. When I was taking a break whilst standing on a ladder with my earphones plugged in, an old man was screaming to get my attention and somehow he did. I had to tell him, ‘I need to get back to work, it was nice talking’, to which he replied, ‘can I have your number?’ and I was left a bit startled.
I wouldn’t have dealt with such a situation in any way, this was a very subtle uncomfortable situation. Thankfully, that’s where it ended, if it had been much more than that, then it would have been rather scary and traumatic.
Geechugalu: Would you like to share any protocols that you think anyone in a public artist community should take, to be able to handle situations in a public space in an ideal way?
Chandana: Yeah, follow the rules, talk to your seniors and people who are managing the project. If you are someone who is doing this for the first time, it’s important to understand at the end of the day that if we are in public, it doesn’t mean we are actually public. When we’re a certain team with collaborators, being mindful is one of the most important things. And I think for us, it had been extremely important to be mindful of the fact that everyone was representing a whole bunch of team; Malleshwaram Hogona Project had been backed by 150 human beings.
And I just don’t think I realised it until almost till the end of the project, that it was that many people. But I think as an artist working on the project, it’s extremely important to talk to a senior, to the concerned spokesperson, and to the team which is funding you. Because, not every time, everyone will be comfortable telling you what to do and what not to do, since not everyone may be interested/comfortable in exercising that kind of authority.
I think sometimes it’s important to ask, to understand for yourself what the protocol is like. In that instance, it should be easier to communicate our needs and have a healthy exchange of the things that need to be taken care of. So many people have worked so hard on this project, and not following a simple protocol, could mess up the whole project.
We had been working on it for 15 days, but for this project to happen, months of work had gone into the picture and our team, and the portal had worked for months to make it possible for us. So when we can’t follow a simple protocol, it can be upsetting. But we as accountable people in the collective, never drop a forced injunction, or else it can be very uncomfortable, especially for Creatives.
Geechugalu: How was your experience with Bengaluru Moving x Geechugalu at Malleshwaram?
Chandana: Love. That’s all I can say, I loved it. It’s one of the projects that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.