Artists from all around the globe have revived the corners of the city with art across the streets with different styles and messages.
Bangalore: Walking through streets with walls covered in paan-stains and smelling of piss is something every Indian has experienced once in their lives. In 2014, Art in Transit was one of the several organizations in Bangalore that decided to deal with this situation and added color to the city.
Yash Bhandari, sculptor and faculty at Srishti Institute of Art, Design, and Technology “Art in transit is a lab and has have been working with the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (BMRCL) for seven years”.
The specialty of Art in Transit is that it turns statements into facilitated research projects where we work with researchers to add anthropological and sociological feel to express the story through art said Bhandari who is also an artist apart from a faculty member.
When Bangalore met graffiti
Banksy once said, “Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing. And even if you don’t come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make someone smile while they’re having a piss.”
Almost a decade ago in 2012, German artists collaborated with Malleshwaram Accessibility Project, Jaaga, and Goethe Institut as a part of the Avant-Garde project to beautify the city.
Malleshwaram Accessibility Project was initiated by the Karnataka State Government’s Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) to transform Malleshwaram’s traffic-congested commuter streets into environmentally and culturally conscious. The project’s main objective was to create awareness amongst the community about the Neighborhood Accessibility Plan focuses on the importance of sustainable transport modes as cycling, walking, and public transportation.
“Graffiti is modern and reflects a younger mindset. It’s loud unlike the art in galleries that are an ancient relic. It is more sophisticated and technical thus the value remains higher.”said Ali (name changed), an art collector, lawyer, and artist.
Artez, a street artist, and muralist from Belgrade, Serbia, whose style can be characterized as a mix of realism and illustration have been working in the field for over 18 years.
“I have been painting in public spaces since 2003. It really depends on what kind of image of himself one wishes to create. I don’t personally care too much about staying anonymous. With a good idea, the impact can be great, especially nowadays with social media and the internet. I was in Bangalore five years ago and I am sure things have drastically changed.”
Namma Metro: The voice of artists
Shunnal Ligade has been working as a freelance artist for over a decade now and gained fame as the Bathroom Painter. Post-2012 he started making portraits. “I don’t really go by that name (Bathroom Painter) now. Plus, I do a lot of art installations, but I work with different media. Portraits are my thing. I always like trying to actually involve different material in it. I’m a freelancer.” he said.
“I plan when and what I do anything around on the streets. As an old Bangalorean, I take a sense of the street or what it used to be. Looking at the corners of this city I know what situation it used to be in. Paying tribute to the corners of the city is what I do.”said Lingade, an artist
Artists around the city have turned corners of the city including the Metro stations into the canvas and covered it with vivid murals to tell stories through the walls.
In 2016, students, faculty, and well-known artists from around the country started work at the M.G. Road Metro Station, the Kempegowda Majestic Metro station, the Cubbon Park metro station, and the Sampige Road metro station.
Art in Transit invites a lot of researchers, practitioners, and activists on behalf of the institute to work on projects. They collaborated with BMRCL as one of the partners to talk about sustainable practices in the metro.
Street art as a form of speech
Art has the power to give fresh perspectives and engage people in dialogue whether it’s about the nature of art or the message it tries to portray. The freedom to create comes with its own sets of struggles one of them being the legal issues around it.
The community of street artists is small. One can count on their fingers the number of artists they know. Creating laws for such a small community doesn’t seem necessary but again it depends from case to case.said Gaurav Raturi
Raturi is a documentarian who started a community on Instagram in 2015 called Great Walls of India, after a few artworks in Delhi were whitewashed which made him realize, they don’t have longevity and need to be preserved somewhere.
Broadly, there are two primary sets of legal issues street artists and graffiti writers can face: the first relates to the legality of the placement of their works and the other to the legal permissibility of the substance or content of their works said Saikia Nandita, a lawyer who writes for In Content Law.
At the moment, we do not completely understand how public rights in the context of street art and graffiti interact with private ownership (particularly when new technologies are employed), and to what extent those rights can be subverted by contract. Indian copyright law applies to street art and graffiti in theory, it doesn’t necessarily provide adequate protection in real life.
And, even when it comes to theory, we don’t know what the contours of the law are because the law has not been sufficiently tested through litigation. There are no specific laws about graffiti in India. However, there are certain provisions in the Constitution of India regarding the destruction and disfigurement of public property she added.
“We (Art in Transit) believe in thoughtful propositions rather than polarizing a subject. Street art often is extremely opinionated. If a person is providing you with space, their inputs are needed. In the in-between, real conversations that touch the country’s pulse happens.” said Bhandari.
Carter, a graffiti writer based in Mumbai has been a part of activist movements like Save Aarey. He uses psychedelic style to portray his art on walls of public spaces. “I don’t decide beforehand where I’m going to make art. I leave with my bag of sprays and choose a wall while walking around the city. Several times the public has opposed my work. Then I don’t have an option other than to leave and find another spot.”
Bhandari also said that’s the advantage, the way we work with our stakeholders. Our work is codesigned. This is where community integration comes. It was a way to get funds for the school which isn’t wrong. We’ve all gone through a very bad time due to the pandemic. It should be up to the stakeholder to decide which was the school in this case.
“Two vastly different parameters determine the difference between what is considered street art and what is considered to be vandalism: legally, any street art which is created illegally without due authorization for its placement is generally vandalism while aesthetically, a person may consider any street art as vandalism if they do not approve of its content,” said Nandita.
Street art is a form of speech and, that being the case, it is entirely reasonable to have the laws regulating speech apply to it, as they do. There are always discussions about how such regulation should be structured in relation to all speech, as there should be, but there is no reason why street art should not be subject to laws governing other forms of speechsaid Nandita
“There should be no rules in art. One should paint what they feel like and shouldn’t be obligated to explain their art to anyone,” said Ali.
“There is a law which basically says that you can’t go and paint as it is considered as public property damage. You don’t have the freedom officially, although you will find different ways on how to do it. Do something nice to that spot. Right? nobody’s saying no to it.” said Ligade.
“Street art was made to say things clearly.”
“Without freedom, no art; art lives only on the restraints it imposes on itself and dies of all other…” Albert Camus
In the 1960s, people did not have social media platforms like we do today. Graffiti started purely as an act of vandalism and rebel. New York subways being a great example. It was a tool to talk about issues like antiestablishment said Raturi.
“Over a period of time, the canvas has become bigger, the thought has expanded to that one can beautify it,” he added. “Tyler’s work in Bandra, Mumbai has received constant backlash from members of a certain political group. They have whitewashed his work several times.”
Artists should be given enough freedom. We are the voices of the common man.said V.G. Narendra, founder of the Indian Institute of Cartoonists who has been in the field for over four decades.
“This kind of art is important for society as it not only makes the public aware of societal issues but also leaves a smile on their faces. They educate and send messages to the audience in a light-hearted manner. When the people in power criticize such work that means your aim of throwing light on the issue of achieving.” he added.
The retired cartoonist spoke about workshops being organized by the institute for artists on the subject. There’s a lot of enthusiasm from the youth when it comes to contemporary art. Street art receives more appreciation as the number of audiences is larger.
When India was in a state of Emergency, editorials and cartoonists were heavily impacted. Publications were shut down and several were suspended. One of them was Shankar’s Weekly in Mumbai where Narendra used to work and was forced to return to Bangalore.
His work has been published in national as well as foreign publications. “Several times our art is misunderstood. In fact, R.K. Laxman used to tell me about him receiving threatening calls. Maintaining anonymity has always been a part of our work. Receiving threats from government officials is not something new.”
Ali has been collecting art for over a decade now. “Surrounding myself with art creates an ambiance that in turn affects my perception of life. Street art is a raw form of art as opposed to finer art styles of oil and paint. But street art has the potential to light up a locality. Art combined with activism is interesting with its own nuances and anecdotes. Personally, I feel people who need activists can’t really afford to idly admire art.” he said.
There are different ways of looking at street art that. It was made to say something clearly. There are different kinds of artists, right? You’ve got people like Banksy, Guess Who, and Tyler Street Art who are very politically inclined, but there are others who are subtle about it. Both the kind are very, very vital said Ligade.
I have not done what is so political. My thing is all about nature, beauty, and humanity. In fact, I even sign off also as Shanti (peace) he added.
What the future holds
Ligade recently finished beautifying the Bangalore International Airport Lounge and spends most of his time at home nowadays due to the rising COVID-19 cases in the city.
Art in Transit has 13 artists on board and 12 walls with permission. The permission bit is the challenging bit, said Bhandari.
“We want to give people a reason to walk in those lanes. We came in to conserve some of the older works and gave them a new spin and a new context. Conservancy lanes in Malleshwaram have been occupied by parking though they were made for pedestrians. We need to activate these places to energize the public.’, he added.