On the purlieu with the Volunteers

In Bangalore, good public art has been a recent phenomena; up until then I think it has only been the random unplanned vandalism kind of graffiti. So, I guess that’s what the team had in their mind. It was a good conversation with the residents of Malleshwaram who are mostly old couples. With each one of them you had to build their trust slowly across two to three meetings with them.’

Hari, Community Manager, Malleshwaram Hogona

Geechugalu: How did your journey begin as management and volunteering in this project? What are your future aspirations, if you see yourself in alignment with artistic endeavors?  

Hari: A majority of houses in Malleshwaram, are these large spaces in which only two people are living. So the challenge starts with getting them to open the door for you which I think is fair, I was actually very happy that they were being that careful. Starting from there it got to a point where we were even invited for lunch to their houses. In some cases they were really nice, they would come out and offer us watermelon juice and buttermilk. Seva Sadan being the cultural center in Malleshwaram, became a focal point of our approach. The first time we spoke to them, it wasn’t easy to obtain walls to paint, and we were confronted with a lot of questions as to what we were going to offer to them. We were just three-four days in painting in a public space, and once they started seeing the progress, it’s staggering how their perceptions and engagements with us started to change massively. Suddenly we had more access and privilege into that center and they were so thrilled and happy about what we were doing.

Gaurav: I got to know about Geechugalu through Instagram. I study architecture, one of my juniors is doing masters in Urban Planning and Design. They shared a story about Geechugalu’s previous works, who were looking for volunteers for the Malleshwaram project. At the time it was a pretty simple project, there was no hassle. Communications took form and within two days we started working. It was a really nice experience especially because I come around the area where the work is happening. Right along Param’s site, I lived on that very same conservancy road and used to walk my dog there.

I’m an architect by graduation and I haven’t practiced by the usual sense of the word yet, since I’m sort of developing a foundational principle currently. One of the things that I definitely want to keep in my architectural practice is art. Lately I’m starting to realise that I don’t have to be an artist and an architect, although I like both of them. I was discussing with a friend; an intersection of art and architecture and she quite rightly pointed out, how that’s possible.  

Architecture is a science and art is more liberal, so when I keep art behind the scenes, that gives a bend to my architectural practice and that’s where I’d like to keep my aspirations. But after working on this project, I realised we fetch it’s concerning relationships mostly based in trust. I would trust to get feedback from some of these artists on architectural projects, or how architectural orientations can be executed in an artistic way.

Collaborations with artists become a very important possibility for me, because I liked the quality of work that these artists were doing. More than quality of work, it’s the quality of thought that I really liked, so collaboration became very much possible.

Geechugalu:  Who did you collaborate with as volunteers?

Gaurav: I started off with Vyas’s site, followed by painting with Spandana and Chandana for a while, and then with Param.

Geechugalu: How did you feel about that transition from your normal work life to stepping out at a site like that?

Shashank: Initially when we used to study in college, we used to roam around in all those streets where we did wall mural art in Malleshwaram. Those were the spots where we used to wonder that there we need to draw or paint something, or whether it could potentially become a photo spot, which could create a certain popularity among people.

When I joined Geechugalu, in the initial days, I was kind of nervous, because if I went wrong anywhere, then those artists would have to come and spend time correcting it. But then Param helped me a lot with it because it showed me what my techniques were initially. He made sure that I followed whatever he said, because ordering something to someone is different than teaching someone, which requires more effort. But then Param actually did amazing and it helped me a lot in learning new techniques. It took me approximately three days, to get into that sync with Param’s artwork and his style of painting. During the last few days, I was very comfortable in working and following through with the needed techniques.

Geechugalu: If given more autonomy over the artistic processes that you partake in future, how would you go about it?

Shashank: I would love to have that because I have been taking up small wall art contracts in murals in the past four years, although what I did there and what I learnt here was entirely different. I used to do these optical illusions and 3D wall art.

I didn’t receive any training for wall murals, but in my current collaboration with the artist, I learnt about some techniques in areas where I lacked. So in my previous works, I lacked certain definition and detailing, working with Param I got to know about how to bring up such small detailing. People used to walk on streets and be wowed.

I even used to work with Gaurav, who brought his own creative thought, wherein Param wanted to discuss what should be filled in the background. Gaurav had this idea of painting stripes which look like French fries basically.

Gaurav: Oh no, that was originally Param’s idea!

Shashank: Gaurav taught me about those tiny French fries, it was quite good.

Hari: I think in this entire project, Gaurav has more footage of paint than any other artist.. how they have been able to adapt in such a short duration has been so hands on, also Akshita has done a lot of work too!

Geechugalu: Do you want to say something about your experiences with the artists as a volunteer?

Akshita: It was fun, it basically gave me a part of my final year back I guess, which was great. I worked with Vyas in the beginning, then I moved on to Chandana’s wall, and then did some bits on Enoch’s wall, which wasn’t much.

Geechugalu: Describe a significant event that occurred as part of your experience. Why was it significant to you?

Hari: The significant thing to me was the drastic shift in people’s mentalities towards us, as soon as they started seeing some work. Earlier they didn’t know us and what we were bringing to the fore; questioning who we were. Just two or three days into seeing works of art around the walls, and how nice it was looking, and how affable and approachable the entire team was, their attitudes changed. Yash, Janet and I had to break the ice in the beginning and gradually their attitudes completely changed. So that was very significant. Because in the beginning I foresaw the entire two weeks to be cold and it was like ‘walking on thin ice’ kind of an experience, but it was amazing to see that drastic change in the end.

I saw how open and accepting people are once they see that you mean well for their society. That was one of the most significant things that occurred to me.

Geechugalu: Any kind of interactions with the local residents that stood out for you?

Akshita: All of my experiences were pretty positive. I didn’t really feel unsafe or threatened necessarily, maybe because I was also around all these artists. Other than that, in my interactions with residents, I had one interaction which was at Shivu’s site. The uncle whose house’s wall was being painted, he came and shared how he worked in a factory, and how this art is making a change and how he anticipates it into the locality. Another time everybody had gone on a break, and these officers in uniforms who I assumed to be from BBMP said, ‘we’ll click a picture with you like we’re working with you so we can tell people that we are also involved’ which was pretty darn cute.

Another time, Chandana told me that the lady whose house we were painting, would stand by the window and see what was happening through the reflection of the glass in the store, which was opposite to the painted wall. She expressed to Chandana that it was super nice to see her work, as she herself was an artist. I had brief sweet little interactions like these, which kept me going. At Shashank’s site, there was this sugarcane juice vendor, who treated us with sugarcane juice for the nice work, which made me acknowledge the sweetness and generosity of the people around.

Janet: You all had been volunteering with multiple artists in multiple practices for quite a while. There’s a lot that you picked up and a lot that you gave to the project; there were definitely points in which there were highs and there were lows. What were your highs and lows and one time where you felt that everything came together?

Gaurav: The highs for me would definitely be the time when we would go to the ice cream place and just hang out, which was very nice to have every day. We’d meet some locals there who had just taken up work and sometimes they would come and share their stories, talk about the artworks and listen. Can’t think of any lows. There were definitely days when we were painting and two hours had gone by.

Moments where everything came together were maybe the last two days, where all projects were coming to a close while in different phases of completion, and suddenly the walk really became a trail, it wasn’t just a work in progress, but it was a trail. In fact, the date before we closed the project which was Ugadi day, so after winding up I went to the Malleshwaram market there beyond Vyas’s site. I made it a point to just take a detour and go through all the artworks because they’re already in action. Although it was a longer route back home and there was construction going on, the conservancy road wasn’t complete, it was broken. But, on that day that was also a turn and in my walk all the way back home I went through all the artworks and it was a trail of a surreal experience.

Shashank: About highs and lows and personal anecdotes, Malleshwaram is a place where I used to hang out and where a lot of my relatives stay.

When the artworks were completed, I would get calls from my family and friends exclaiming that it’s such amazing work which has been done. Moreover, I think we have created a very positive impact on the residents in Malleshwaram. All the artworks which have come up have something unique in them, and in the coming days it will become a popular site to visit. Most of the times when we talked about Malleshwaram, we used to remember about this egg rice adda, Veena stores and many other temples as such. But now after all the artworks, Malleshwaram will become a popular site, I guess. Lows I think, none. It was a really fun time for me throughout.

Akshita: I would like to speak from the community perspective, having seen all the art pieces come together from the beginning to the very end, and seeing the artists start their sketches and finish their entire pieces. What made an impact on me was the time we spent in the community. One day Janet decided to drop me off at the metro station. All these people in the community were open to conversations which really left an impact on me.

The lows were perhaps the pandemic being a bit of a hindrance, and perhaps me being not much of a painter. It was the community aspect again, when everything came together, and when we got the Covid scare. I witnessed how everybody in the project was there for each other, checking up on each other, making sure everybody had all the resources they needed.

Hari: The lowest parts were in the beginning and later it was just highs and it stayed there. Some of the frustrating parts were approaching some of these people, because you’re offering them something really less, and you have to somehow show them that it’s in their best interest as well. It’s so hard to get through to them, when they’re not coming to where you are, and not even listening.

Like Girija mentioned, one lady had threatened to send her dogs at her. She had a really nice wall which would have made a lot of impact, but she asked us to leave and almost threatened to let loose her dogs on us, so those were some of the lowest instances, and a few other people who we had to approach for permissions, were really hard to talk to. But because it was a brief project, it gradually went high and really stayed there.

Where it all came together, was in the beginning, while I was figuring out logistics for everyone, sourcing things and making sure people were comfortable in those spaces. But as time went by, I could just walk in there and it was pretty much a breeze. Everyone already knew their spots, and all the house owners had become friends with the artists, all the vendors had already become friends. There was a temple there where we chilled, I went to a temple after god knows how long and that was the longest time I’ve ever spent in a temple. They had really taken to it as well.

Everyone had taken to us, so as a community project, it was a complete win, and it felt like going to a friend’s house after a point. By the end of second week, it was all on auto pilot. It was a treat everyday honestly, like summer holidays and going at your friend’s to hang out.

And when we told the people in the community our reasons for painting, we had such a positive reception, and they suddenly felt a sense of ownership. Art is not merely to consume, it’s supposed to change something in you.

Published by osheen gupta

Visual Art communicator

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