A wall is a wall, whether it is plain, peeling or broken. But it is much more when it is painted with flowers, animals and mystical beings. It is street art. On Rest House Road, off St Marks Roads, one can see flowers, clouds and a man reading under a tree.
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Shilo Shiv Suleman, Siddharth Chadha and Ridhi D Cruz are the three young people who painted this wall. Ridhi is a Bangalorean, trained as a journalist, who freelances with independent media projects. Chadha who is from Delhi and Ridhi’s J-school classmate, is a film maker and researcher. Shilo is a third year student at the Srishti School of Design, and also freelances as an illustrator and artist.
The team was inspired by the The Wall Project in Mumbai, started by Dhanya Pilo, and others. Having participated at a wall painting event there, Ridhi was hooked. She teamed up with Chadha and Shilo to form the Bangalore Wallflower group a couple of months back.
Painting is of course a very personally satisfying experience for them as artists. But beyond that, as Ridhi explains, “It is a very effective way of sharing beauty.”
Adds Chadha, “Walls have a scope that’s larger than a sketchbook or a canvas. People around the wall would interact with that space everyday. So, yes, public art is exciting becausee it reaches out to people.” And all their initiative takes is the cost of the emulsion paints!
They paint during the day and on weekends when the public can watch the process and join in. They have flipped the concept of a “wall” on its head. Explains Ridhi, “When one thinks of a wall, you think of borders being drawn and maintained. We use it to invite people to be part of a shared space and experience.”
Shilo says she has always been irked about how art tends to become a ‘luxury’, an ‘investment’ or something only appreciated by those who can afford it. Having grown up with art around her (her mother is an artist too), she has started looking at how art can be used to provoke change. Ridhi, however, has personal reasons for this art work. Having worked with several NGOs, she says she has realised the difficulty in trying to change attitudes and has “decided that the only changing I would devote my energies to, was the changing of (my) self. … it is more about doing something that makes me happy. And if possible, spreading that happiness.”
Shilo is not sure what difference the paintings can make, but she thinks it can be a way of reclaiming public spaces.
People who view the wall, interpret the painting in their own way. The most interesting thing that Ridhi found was how painting a wall proved to be a starting point for conversations. For her, that is the most important objective.
Explains Ridhi, “Passers-by would stop, stood back and looked at what we were painting, mostly throwing in a smile, an odd query, a thank you or ‘can you paint my wall, too!’? “
Unfortunately, the Rest House Road painting was recently vandalised. Ridhi says she was a little upset to see white paint over portions of their first painting. But this did not discourage the group.
In fact Chadha is quite upbeat, “If the wall had worn out and no one would have touched it for years, I would have been sad. But people do notice the work on the wall. That’s nice to know.” Shilo is philosophical about it, “When one paints a wall, there is automatically an understanding that it is now in the hands of the community and the environment. It isn’t meant to be permanent. If it wasn’t a vandal, it would have eventually (in some years) been destroyed by the rain.”
They have also painted a wall at Jaaga, a creative common space in Rhenius Street, Shanti Nagar.
The toughest challenge they face is getting permissions. They do not paint without permission of the owner of the property and like to involve the community in the project, especially children. For example, in the Government High School at Adugodi, the students joined Ridhi and and her friend Christabel in painting of the stairwell. They had collaborated with IYCN (Indian Youth for Climate Network) on this project.
The group says they were prepared for all kinds of reactions when they started the initiative. Says Ridhi, “We’ve been chased off from another wall and the cops have been set on us ‘graffiti’ artists.” She explains how the city, which is in a state of transition, has influenced their work, “There is a lot of fear in the city. People have become suspicious and there is a lot of confusion and fissures within the society…And rather than gripe about how it has changed for the worse, I decided to engage with it to better understand the nuances this change has brought to the only city I can call home.”
Ridhi feels this is the best way she can accept the increasing hostility towards women, the growing number of concrete structures replacing fruit groves and green belts, the road rage and pollution, alongside the increased purchasing power every individual has benefited from, the vibrant diversity the city is attracting and the attempts of various groups to steer the development of the city in a responsible and sustainable manner.
In the long run, the Bangalore Wallflower Group hope people realize that anyone can create and everyone can paint. Shilo hopes that more people will realize the value of such public art and not see it as just ‘graffiti’. What keeps them going? Ridhi says simply, “Smiles. The joy that we, as painters, and people as viewers derive from the paintings.” ⊕