Bengaluru artists react to their city

An urban space is like an immense melting pot into which something new is added and subtracted everyday, causing a perpetual sequence of reactions, and consequently changes. Five visual artists in Bengaluru express their encounters with the fluctuating urban, working in different mediums.

Clockwise from top left: Krishnaraj Chonat, V.G. Venugopal, Murali Cheeroth and Clare Arni.

Murali Cheeroth paints vividly coloured canvases that reflect the frenzied, throbbing sensations of urban living. “..my working process is a kind of extraction system, that draws on tiny concerns about uber (extreme) urbanisation” he says.

He constructs his compositions in the manner of a collage, integrating apparently disconnected objects, locations and incidents of into a shifting landscape. Images of ‘network towers’ and satellite-wings make frequent appearances in his work, as do other symbols of technology, global connectivity and consumerist society, seen in ‘Habitus (unmarked)’ (2009).

Courtesy: Murali Cheeroth.

Cheeroth has lived in many Indian cities before settling in Bengaluru. He uses his experiences as an ‘outsider’ and his personal observations of socio-cultural structures and identities in his work.

Cheeroth studied art at Shantiniketan and has also taught art in various schools, including National Institute of Fashion Technology –Bengaluru. Cheeroth has also worked extensively with printmaking as well as theatre and now video and film, with a career spanning of two decades.

Articulating sentiments similar to Cheeroth, Venugopal V G makes autobiographical sketches of the city, exploring the challenges posed to an individual identity in a collective sphere.

Venugopal trained in Painting at the Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts (CAVA), Mysore and acquired an MFA in Printmaking from Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, Bengaluru. Stark variations in scale, use of visual metaphors, and detailed drawing are characteristics of his work. He has made a series of prints that are satirical commentaries on the imbalances of urban life.

Courtesy: V G Venugopal.

In an untitled etching of 2009, an oversized foam-net (generally seen protecting fruit) looms over the silhouette of a cityscape, while tiny human forms navigating poses of activity inhabit the lower space. The innocuous foam-net is representative of the human necessity and anxiety for security – it is one among the many items Venugopal extracts from mundane life, to generate multiple meanings within an artwork. “My recent works are a result of evolving alternative approaches in dealing with questions I ask myself about the changing facets of human relations and sensibilities, environmental issues, and struggle for identity in an urban reality/context.” he explains.

From Bengaluru to Bengaluru, the last twenty years have meant a huge transition for the city, physically, socially, culturally. Engaging with this altering history, and sifting through it’s fibers for stories to document are Clare Arni (b 1962) and Smriti Mehra (b 1980) – the former working with still photography, and the latter using moving images, that is, digital video.

Claire Arni has built up wide repertoire in documentary photography, concentrating to a large extant on architecture – modern and archeological – and travel photography, also working on experimental art projects. Her ongoing body of work documents ‘Disappearing Professions’ in Indian metropolises. In Bengaluru, she located and photographed members of communities whose jobs have been made obsolete by progressing technology.

From knife-grinding, to dhobi-ghat work, traditional silk-dying, to film-cutout painting, these professions are fading fast. Earlier the city had a roaring business of painting film posters, and studios were overflowing with painstakingly created cut-outs of hero’s and heroines, politicians and famous personalities. Convenient and quick digital printing has taken its place now.

Courtesy: Claire Arni.

Claire says, “I have recently been involved in exhibitions that document India’s fast changing urban landscape … I realized that many of the professions that I had earlier photographed had disappeared from the streets of my hometown.” She adds, “The subjects would often spend hours with us over tea, as they were passionate about their profession and its history. They would share information on other professions that they felt we should document.”

Smriti Mehra’s work is located at the intersection of art, design and research. She currently teaches at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology where she studied as an undergraduate. Recently she developed ‘The Flower Project’ that involved the exploration and documentation of Bengaluru’s crowded City Market. The project included her video-essays, as well as the multi-media work of those she had invited into the project.

Courtesy: Smriti Mehra.

One of Smriti’s video’s recorded in rich detail the sights, sounds, and textures of the flower market, and the persons who participate in the endless cycle of distribution and consumption of flowers.

Having grown up in Bengaluru, Smriti’s experience of its changing facets and her interactions with its inhabitants coming from varied cultures, religions, and economic strata have inspired much of her work, and has resulted variedly in video documentaries, radio projects, writing and performances.  She studied Media Art from NSCAD University at Halifax; She is an artist-in-residence at the Centre for Experimental Media Art.

“With a background in both Visual Art and Communication Design, I have a strong interest in seeing my practice as not merely portraying the human condition but being involved with it. I am always challenging my perspective, confronting my partiality as ‘observer’ and seeing my role as participant in these dialogues,” says the artist.

Krishnaraj Chonat uses diverse media to create art objects that are descriptive of condensed personal memory and experience. In an attempt to grapple with and express instances of social and environmental conflict in rapidly urbanizing societies like Bengaluru, Chonat has devised a visual language that uses the combination of opposites, in material and concept.

Courtesy: Krishnaraj Chonat.

The work ‘Private Sky’ (2007) comprises a picture perfect ‘villa’ house on a platform atop a visibly dead potted tree. A theatrical full-moon and an oversized mosquito complete the installation. The whole is painted a ghostly white, and is reflected infinite times in surrounding mirrors, rather like the effect of identical dwellings in a gated community. It is one among a series of works on the subject of the city’s mad rush for real estate, and the desires and tastes of the new-rich.

Integral to his work is also a conscious use of material to narrate and extend satire (for example, the moon made out of fur) and to promote individual responses based on the memory of each viewer. Chonat studied at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, Bengaluru, and at M S University Baroda.

About the work, he says, “Simulation and its various contemporary manifestations was the basic idea that I was exploring. The way many simulated worlds are collaged and presented as a new world for habitation, especially in the housing sector, and the obedience to its outrageous program, displayed by the immense popularity of these projects, has been a central concern.

“This work directly refers to a Venetian Housing colony with east-facing Californian houses and villas that has come up in Yelahanka on a lake bed filled up for this very purpose. I have fond memories of this lake where I spent many weekends doing sketches as an art student. It is a very mosquito infested area and I was struck by the possibility of a Venetian colony with mosquitoes: perhaps the only harsh reminder of how fantastical dreams of living in beautifully distant [constructed] lands can be enjoyed with closed eyes until it is all shattered by a tiny winged local!”

Underlying a city’s physical appearance – dictated by its geography, architecture and infrastructure – are multiple layers of experience that derive from an accumulated history of human life and interaction, and you and I are even now adding to it, consciously and unconsciously responding to stimuli. Among us, artists are the ones able to isolate and record these responses, and art is the result. ⊕

References

Murali Cheeroth  | Krishnaraj Chonat | Clare Arni | V.G. Venugopal | Smriti Mehra

About Lina Vincent Sunish 10 Articles
Lina Vincent Sunish is a Bangalore based art historian and curator.

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