BBMP is on a beautification drive, painting the walls in the city in a hue of colours. Since August 15th 2009, about seven lakh square feet of wall along main roads and bridges, mostly in the west zone of the city have been turned into canvases for the BBMP’s Karnataka Vaibhava wall painting project.
Scenes from mythology, paintings of the temples at Hampi, Belur and Halebid, the Mysore Palace, historical figures of Karnataka, jungle creatures, and even a few socially conscious paintings of polio vaccinations and the dangers of alcohol related abuse now adorn the public walls of the city, instead of gutka stains and torn film bills.
“The purpose of this project is to avoid posters, wall writings, to bring about beautification, and to show the heritage and bring back the glory of Karnataka,” says Dr S S Khandre, Public Relations Officer (PRO), BBMP. Tia Raina is an advertising professional who is impressed by this effort. She says, “Doing it in this way gives Bangalore something to show off to its visitors.”
Chandranath Acharya, a well known artist and former magazine illustrator for Deccan Herald group, however, says, “Thousands of paintings trying to catch your eye – is just chaos”.
Acharya is critical of the whole approach to public art, based on a government’s tender system. He recounts a better example of how 50 KSRTC and BMTC buses were painted by artists including S G VAsudev, Yusuf Arakkal and Acharya himself, with the initiative of the then Transport Commissioner I M Vittala Murthy.
G Asvathanarayan, Chief Executive of Chinmaya Mission Hospital and head of the Bangalore chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), set up to protect and conserve India’s natural and cultural heritage, is unconvinced about how effective the BBMP’s plans would be to raise awareness about the state’s heritage. “To draw people’s attention, it is okay,” he says. “But it is too distracting. (The paintings) would be more effective where people have time to stand, look, ponder, and reflect about the heritage, for example at Cubbon Park or Lal Bagh.”
U V Umesh, art consultant, who has written about the technique followed by BBMP artists on his blog and website on Contemporary Indian Art, agrees, “The paintings are a distraction while driving.” He feels this could lead to accidents especially along the main roads, such as the one leading to the Airport. But he also feels it is a good initiative otherwise, “Everything is about photography and digital images today. This is a different type of art. People, especially children, do not get a chance to see things of beauty, so all this will be converted to good ideas.”
Planning behind the project?
The main criticism levelled against the BBMP, however, is the lack of planning process or detailed consultation with experts regarding the project. Acharya is critical of the whole approach to public art, based on a government’s tender system. He recounts a better example of how 50 KSRTC and BMTC buses were painted by artists including S G Vasudev, Yusuf Arakkal and Acharya himself, for an initiative of the then Transport Commissioner I M Vittala Murthy.
With Bangalore Urban Arts Commission having shut down in 2002, the BBMP admits that there is no governmental organisation to regulate or draw up plans for the city’s art in public spaces. B T Ramesh, Chief Engineer (West Zone) BBMP says, “The project was the brainchild of BBMP Commissioner Bharat Lal Meena. It is being (executed) by the BBMP engineers.”
The BBMP PRO explains that once the idea was formulated, the BBMP put forward an “Expression of Interest” notice in the papers. They contacted art schools in the city, including Chitrakala Parishath and Ken School of Art for the project. Students of Ken School of Art in Seshadripuram offered to create street art based on the BBMP guidelines. “We worked overnight on August 14th on a wall of a railway bridge in Majestic area and completed it,” says Sameer Rao, a student of the school, who was involved in the project with 10 others from college. He says the students had creative plans for the paintings, and offered to do the paintings for about Rs 55 per sq ft, but their offer was rejected by the authorities.
The project contracts went to companies involved in painting banners and posters, who answered the tenders and agreed to do the work at Rs 25 per sq ft. There was no further consultation.
“Something that is so large scale, something we have to all live with, should be opened out by the government,” believes Archana Prasad, visual artist and founder of Jaaga, an urban community art-architecture experiment. She believes that a public forum, inviting proposals, and involving the artists and the community, similar to the project at Freedom Park, would have been the best approach.
“When a community or neighbourhood takes over the space, and involves the people, there’s a sense of ownership and responsibility of the walls.” Umesh admits, “The banner artists might have benefited from the expertise of established artists, on things like proportion”. However, for some others, the non art-school aspect of the paintings is the strength of the project.
Tia says, “If art schools or artists had worked on it, it would have been too elitist. You have the other rungs of society participating in something that can be a claim to fame (for Bangalore).”
Employment in Art
BBMP acknowledges the artists’ complaints, but insists that one of their objectives was to provide employment to local artists. They say that about 65 banner artists have gained employment as a result of the project.
B V Satyanarayan represents Murugan Arts, one of the contractors, who in turn hires banner artists. He admits, “We don’t make much profit, but the project is a big help to banner artists. They have been out of work, (because of the ban on film posters on city walls, and the increasing popularity of digital art). This gives them two meals a day. They can now take pride in the work they do.” This pride is evident in the painters.
Dileep , who was painting the walls near Cantonment Station burst into a smile as he narrated stories of how Bangaloreans stop to see and compliment him on his work, for which he gets paid about Rs 2000 to Rs 3000 a month. According to the painters and the contractors, they have been given general guidelines by the BBMP about what to paint. They use images given to them by the BBMP, as well as pictures from calendars and papers for a broad template, before using their own imagination and skill to complete the art work.
Khandre explains that BBMP officials chose many of the images and asked artists to paint based on location. While the state’s heritage structures and historically significant images find space on walls along busy areas frequented by tourists, schools and hospitals have paintings that promote awareness on issues such as health and hygiene, and government organisations have images relevant to their field, and their achievements.
Satyanarayan says the BBMP is very involved in the project. He says that officials, especially Chief Engineer B T Ramesh frequent the areas where work is going on for inspection, and often give their suggestions and comments. Officials working on the project say that there has been a reduction in spitting and defecation along the roads with these paintings.
Citizen Matters spoke to commuters using the Kempe Gowda Bus Stand where many of the walls stand adorned with nature and heritage scenes, and they agree that walls infamous for being outdoor toilets are now relatively clean. However, Srinivas K, who regularly passes by the paintings at Anand Rao Circle, disagrees. He says he still sees people spitting on the walls. “It will get dirty soon. This is a waste of money”. Enthused by the response to the street art, and undeterred by the criticism, the BBMP, like a child with a new set of crayons, is keen to begin Phase II of the project, extending other parts of the city including Yelahanka and Bannerghatta Road. One thing is for certain, if the BBMP has its way, Bangalore is only going to get more colourful.