“Greetings from Malleshwaram”
Malleshwaram is one of the oldest parts of Bengaluru representing itself as the most iconic place offering authentic South Indian culture, food and architecture. Greetings from Malleshwaram is a mural painted at the BMTC bus stop to celebrate and elevate its vernacular presence.
Geechugalu: Tell us a bit about yourself and your previous art practices in public art.
Saksham: My name is Saksham and I am an independent public artist and a graphic designer. I hail from Chandigarh but I’ve been living in Bangalore for around eight years now. I have been involved in the public art scene since my college days, in terms of understanding the relationship of the public with their spaces; and how I can create installations and interventions where the public can interact with the artworks, which has been very necessary for me. But despite their different demographics and economic conditions, I want all people to understand what I’m doing. Since the beginning, I have been indulging in public art practices on a very vernacular and local stage, with some public art projects in Cooke town, and Yelahanka in Bangalore. So basically that’s the start of how I got engaged in it; everything started in Yelahanka near my college, where we were understanding everything through education. Later on I started doing things on my own, and started becoming a part of other public groups, and I now offer this service commercially as well.
Geechugalu: Having been an artist with a widespread exposure to mural making, environmental design, typography and visual identities, how has your journey been so far in the public art domain?
Saksham: It’s been positive most of the time, I’ve been doing a lot of stuff which has been pretty much inside the entire satisfactory, ideological spirit that people have, which hopefully reflects in the art that I make. I’ve also encountered some times when there has been some disapproval from the public’s side, wherein my piece has also been defaced, which is completely understandable, since everyone has their own way of responding and reacting. So I mean, the experiences in their entirety have been amazing, but the reactions from the public have been both on the good and not-so-good side.
Geechugalu: Are there any nuggets from the locals that you would like to share, which resulted in some kind of reinforcement?
Saksham: Most of the people have been really happy and curious. First of all, whenever I paint something which is not oriented towards generating any specific agenda or profits, or something which is not commercially inclined, it interests people and they try to pose a mixed equation of ‘why are you doing this’, in the first place. If we need to make other people understand, then we may say, it’s for beautification or rather a clean-up for the space, which may be acceptable for other people as they see things happening.
But the major reason behind doing public art, should certainly be something that generates a conversation which creates experiences for people, a sense of ownership for them, and something that may become a sort of a landmark. All these things are very essential coming from the artist’s side, that when their art is left behind, people should be able to generate their own meaning towards it.
Some of the artworks which I have made have become certain ways for understanding landmarks for people to identify during their navigation, which also somewhat serves my main purpose of getting people attached to the spaces in some way, and people creating their own meanings towards it.
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?
Saksham: In a holistic view, I don’t think there are many, there’s no set form of rules, prerequisites or any sort of formal training that is involved in doing these things. Since, if we talk of vandalism in street art, it’s also in a way public art itself. So if people are indulging in anything remotely close to that, then anyone can give it meaning and carry their perspectives to those things happening around.
But for aspiring artists, I think the only thing that they need to make sure of, is gathering the right permissions, so that their work doesn’t fall into the vandalism category, if at all they’re focusing on doing something that they wish to be socially accepted. If they want to do something that really resonates with people so that they can derive their own meanings towards it, there’s no other way to go about it rather than just thoughtful execution.
In this industry where you have to have a particular skill to do something, you could work on your own skill so it becomes evident. Around the mitigations part, I don’t think there’s anything else which can suffice for people when they step out and do something of their own in a public space.
Geechugalu: It’s an interesting thing you said, that vandalism is also a form of public art. In that regard, how do you perceive that aspect of public art? What do you think should be the course of action to have it become more socially acceptable, if it all it has to be?
Saksham: Again the spectrum is wide, but if one can understand the demographics or perhaps, the vernacular aspects of the people around a certain area, then they can somewhat define these parameters of what’s acceptable and what’s not. Because people are a bit sensitive towards what they want to see in the outside world. So if you are taking on something which is on the braver or bold side, then you should expect some sort of reactions and responses from people around. If you don’t want to do something like that, then the much safer way to go about it would be sharing the essence that you’re engaging in a conversation with the people around, to get their say on what you want to create in their space. If you really want to fit in as an artist in public, then you will have to indulge in the conversations around you to get things in order. Again, it’s a very situational thing, especially in a country like ours. I don’t think there are any additional measures to fuse with explaining things in your own way. There are some artists who make very political and strongly opinionated artworks in the streets, which can receive a very drastic reaction from the public. They just might not appreciate what you’re doing.
Geechugalu: Had there been any challenges that came up in executing a mural piece in a public space in a state of pandemic?
Saksham: I think just when we were discussing the main artwork which was supposed to go on the wall, there might have been some changes and some rounds of adjustments that were to be made on my specific piece, because it was supposed to go on the bus stop. So now, the exposure to the public automatically increases because this piece is in the centre of the town, so anyone who’s going to enter through the route, or is going to take the bus, will take a look at whatever that has been done over there. That’s something which resonates more with my interpretation of Malleshwaram, because my mural has been dedicated to the city itself. It’s also a simple and playful representation of how I see Malleshwaram.
Something which was graspable and more inclined towards the generic side, was the aim, because for everyone else who lives around this town, it might have been something that they might have seen elsewhere. But people who are coming from an outsider’s perspective, they might resonate a lot more with the mural that I’ve done. I see things from a tourist’s lens because I myself am a tourist in that space. So that actually, was the only challenge that I had to face.
Otherwise the execution part was very smooth, everyone was extremely helpful, we had people coming from families to my friends in the artist network, and even the locals coming around to help us. So I could see a very positive response to what was happening. My mural is bilingual, with both Kannada and English coming together. It was fairly an easy going process, so the challenges were more on the minimal side.
Geechugalu: What were some of the factors that kindled your mural making process?
Saksham: In my mural making process, it becomes fairly easy for anyone to be a part of it. I sketch out the entire mural on the wall first, and then it’s all segregated into flat colors, followed by being entirely neat within the lines drawn. So when I’m working on a mural, I have a corner to corner reference, an inch by inch measurement in a practical way of what’s going to come up on the wall, it’s all Maths and Physics. When I’m done with my reference, I have to replicate everything on the wall or the façade, and once the sketching is done, it becomes a sort of a colouring book for people to understand and see what’s been there on the wall and what’s on the reference.
When we’re starting off, I give them all a quick crash course or a workshop on what we’re supposed to paint on the wall, and people are fairly very receptive and pick it up quickly, since it’s just painting or colouring in the space that I’ve made for them. So what I do to help them, is create an outline of those first particular shapes in which I’m supposed to get my artwork, and then I can tell them to fill them in with the colours. When they’re done with the basic parts, I can do the intricate bits. So it’s all in sync with the artwork here and there. Again it’s a very therapeutic thing for me and hopefully for people who are painting on the wall for the first 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 spaces?
Saksham: I don’t think there has been anything severely negative about my experiences, so if I change anything then the response that I’m going to get is not going to be real. And the beauty of this entire process is how the public reacts to whatever you’re doing. It’s obviously harder to predict what they’re going to feel in the first place, so the only way to experience this in a better way would be to keep doing more stuff around and see how people react. Since if you change anything, then everything changes. So I don’t think there’s any other way for me to formulate this, since it has a different outcome each time.
In the locale, the public sort of became more loose, in terms of coming around and interacting and probably respecting the space more. I could see people cleaning up after they were done with their Chais or with their juices, they started to respect the space more, when they saw that there was an art intervention with people coming and doing something for the space. So they also see the value in it, in that same sense. And when you see a space which is fairly clean and new, that is something that’s really good to watch.
When you cover certain areas with this sort of a movement, it then automatically becomes very lively. The area in particular will not be shady anymore, and easier for people to walk in.
Bengaluru Moving specifically, they’ve created a whole map around the town. If you take certain routes, then you would see these artworks popping out here and there, even in areas where you didn’t expect them to be in, and now they’re on the map. So, what they’re doing from my perspective is that they’re creating more spaces for people to walk around and maybe creating more interaction. And if in turn, that creates a whole safety aspect, then that’s another win for us.
Geechugalu: Describe a significant event that occurred as part of your public art experience.
Saksham: I think there was this one time when we were just cleaning up the space, and all of these 15 – 21 volunteers that I had called for assistance, showed up. I wasn’t aware that they were going to show up, so that day in the morning itself, I was very relieved that there were certain sections of the people who were really proactive about this initiative. So that was a very good response that I got, which was surprising.
So when we were planning our entire mural out, this very generous lady came up to us and treated us with coffee and food, I think she also felt very overwhelmed that all these people were coming around in Malleshwaram and doing this for them, so that in itself, was a very positive and a very homely response that we all got which was a very generous gesture from her end.
Even though we were a lot of people, she made sure that we were treated and welcomed. It’s another thumbs up for us as well, right when we’re about to start something good, we get a welcoming response from the community around us which motivates us to finish things in a very nice manner.
So I think that in itself I think created more buzz from other people around, more families and locals would come around and see what we were doing. The word spread very fast in that town, so everyone knew that an art intervention was happening. I think because of that lady, she didn’t even tell us her name actually. She just came around, treated us, and went. So again, it’s a good way to motivate everyone, when something of that sort is done, which was very generous of her.
Geechugalu: Do you carry any personal connections with parts of the city in Bengaluru? What were some of your fondest memories in it?
Saksham: In terms of just the public art movement, the entire city is a big inspiration for me. Me hailing from the north and understanding the south from that lens, and seeing it as someone who’s been living there for eight years, has been a different kind of experience. Everything around that city inspires me to do more things for them, and I feel a sense of onus because I started doing this while I was in Yelahanka, in Bengaluru.
I share a very emotional connection towards the city, because it’s been endowing me with opportunities for doing such work and the response has mostly been very positive.
This particular piece called ‘Chakraview’, which I did in Cubbon Park Metro Station in Bengaluru, has a special connection for me, because I had to work in my hardest capacities to exhibit what I wanted. When I was in my final year of College, I had to present something for my final project, that time I was introduced to Art in Transit, and their initiative of reconstructing one’s thoughts in a Metro station. It was a blank canvas for us so I decided to create an art installation, and designed an anamorphic illusion game called ‘Chakraview’, which is now very frayed, but you can still get a gist of what the game was about. I think the reason why I’m more emotionally connected to it, is because it was the hardest to crack as a concept in itself, and how that could be translated in a comprehensive way for others. Making something on the platform of a public Metro station, came with a lot of responsibility in explaining a very bizarre illusion concept to the public. The finding which I came across in my thesis, I translated that into a game which is printed on the platform. When I was done with the project, even the funders liked it, but it was a contested piece in the eyes of my faculty. But I had the support of the people who wanted me to execute it, with Art in Transit on my side.
My thesis jury coming from a critical eye, raised some pointers in its execution. To which my answer was that I would just ask the guard in the station if they liked it, which also gave me an idea on whether the game would work in a real world context. Since the game was designed in English and Kannada, the guards in the station could play and solve it in about twelve minutes.
Even though each metro train came in about 8 minutes, they would be able to finish solving the game within the duration, and even if they were late, they were completely fine with it and liked it at the end of the day.
They expressed that they were happy that something like that exists over here, and took pictures. I made it for commuters and people who had 8 minutes to spare, whilst they waited for their train, and wanted space to walk around in, I just wanted them to have fun.
So, I think that’s a very good measure, and an emotional connection that I carry towards that specific project in the city. It was everything that I could ask for, which was challenging to begin with. It was inside a controlled environment, so there’s something natural about it, it’s only going to wither out because of the footprints that go over it, so that means that it has been interacted with many times.
When I executed it the funders were happy, and so were the guards and the staff everyday, overall it has been an amazing experience for me.
Geechugalu: Was there a moment when you felt vulnerable or found difficulties during this project or in your previous public art experiences? If yes, what were the ways in which you dealt with them in the past?
Saksham: Well, Geechugalu being a public art collective, I guess there are people in it who’re going to look after you if in case a vulnerability strikes, or if you feel that an artwork needs more clarity or feedback, or help in terms of execution or in ideating the things that you want.
When we’re talking about Geechugalu, it’s a fairly better space to be in, since we have a lot of these people who are also focused on tackling such issues. Even if you’re interacting with the locals around you, there are certain people in the team who can be more descriptive than you are and can explain things better than you yourself. Everyone has their own strength of doing that.
So from the point of view of being a part of a collaboration with Geechugalu, the vulnerability aspect was not really there, because it was extremely well organised, people were very punctual and proactive. I had my volunteers, who came on all three days of the project, so I don’t think I felt off in that entire process.
When I started working on my mural sites, I wasn’t ever vulnerable until later in life when I started to understand more about the public around me.
Whenever we talk of art in general, it’s always preferable when we start off, that we’re not scared at all, because at the end of the day, we’re catering to the inner child that we have, and also doing something that we enjoy. But as we start growing up and do more of these things, we start to see that there’s an aspect of a social responsibility towards what we’re doing. For me, it’s another self reflection on whatever I’m going to produce later, it has to be better than my previous work. All these small things start to stir inside of you. You then start to become a little bit vulnerable, in regards to each artwork that has been done, which will have a sort of a vulnerability for me, especially when I’m doing things alone, on my own.
I think I was at my most vulnerable when an artwork of mine got defaced in February, at Residency Road, whilst I was painting a mural. When I came back, there was a Black graffiti all over it, so people hated it so much that they literally painted over it, so I had to stop. That was something that hit me hard because I faced this sort of a clash from the opposite side, even though I was cleaning the space up, and trying to do something for them. But there are certain sections of the people who may not approve of what you do.
But now I think I feel stronger and if I have to do something else, I will be prepared for such a possible outcome; to another possibility of people disapproving of your work so much that they just might not let you do it.
Geechugalu: How was your experience with Bengaluru Moving x Geechugalu at Malleshwaram?
Saksham: Great, it’s been one of the best times, actually. First of all, it happened in the middle of the pandemic, so after a long time we were able to go out and execute things in a very safe manner, which was something very nice to see. All these volunteers who showed up, came with a negative report for Covid, so that was also very good. Everyone who was involved in this, didn’t want anything in return, but just wanted to give. And that entire aspect was very motivating for me. Overall, it has been one of the best times with an extremely cooperative team, with very handily picked sites which were offered to other artists. It was a very well thought out design movement, according to me.