What better way than street art to bring about a sense of community and belonging? The Malleswaram Accessibility Project made it possible — you only had to look at the writing on the wall

The streets of Malleswaram were all abuzz on February 25 as “Malleswaram Moves” swung into action.

Jaaga's three-month long project, the “Malleswaram Accessibility Project” or MAP in partnership with the Directorate of Urban Land Transport, culminated with this day-long programme of events including exhibitions, performances and interventions of street art and art in public spaces. Most of these events were concentrated around Malleswaram 9 Cross, which was marked by exhibitions and art interventions by local artists, and the 18th Cross bus depot, where there was a live street art intervention by German artists and Indian students.

“Malleswaram Moves” was a collaboration between the MAP and Urban Avant-Garde, which explores contemporary urban modes of artistic expression. Urban Avant-Garde is in turn part of the year of cultural collaboration between Germany and India, called “Germany and India 2011-2012: Infinite Opportunities”.

Creating access

“What we were trying to do with MAP is to understand what residents, including kids, labourers and workers, needed to make the neighbourhood more accessible to them,” explains Archana Prasad, co-founder, Jaaga. “The project started on December 1, 2011, and since then we carried out over 1,800 surveys to understand the problems faced by people and to encourage them to use cycles, walk or take public transport. The project also sought to understand the significant social, cultural spots that people in Malleswaram felt made the neighbourhood special,” she adds.

The results of this survey, along with suggestions made by architects, were on display at 9th Cross along with a set of over 90 drawings of their dream city by children.

Five well-graffitied BMTC buses also stood along the street, urging people to use public transport. Inside the buses were more art interventions, film screenings about the neighbourhood and sound interventions that relayed the views of Malleswaram residents about their neighbourhood.

Further down, in the 18th Cross bus depot, two groups of artists, one German and one Indian, were painting two stretches of walls. The Germans had just begun painting swathes of purple, while the Indian wall was almost full of bright, fun, abstract and figurative graffiti. You could tell it was Indian because one of the blaring slogans said “Aham Brahma-smi”.

“I have been doing graffiti for two years,” says architect Sai Rohit (aka Guru, since his graffiti voice is Indian spirituality), one of the artists who worked on the Indian wall. “I began in Bombay after joining the ‘wall project'. Over the past nine months, since I moved to Bangalore, I have barely managed to put together four people to do street art. So this is a fabulous opportunity. The government rarely gives permission for graffiti and now I don't have to worry about getting caught. I can work in detail, taking my time, playing with colours. It also creates a nice interaction with people.”

Overseeing the Indian wall was the Dutch-German curator Lene ter Haar. “This is bottoms-up art in practice,” says Lene. “It's about claiming visibility with their own ideas and sharing thoughts about moments important to them. These artists are also thinking about using public transport and other social issues.”

Some of the artists present at the wall were students she trained at a recent workshop on street art. Archana points out, “It's the only way we can make a real difference to the place in the face of rapid urbanisation, by holding on to the neighbourhood sentiment. When you know about the neighbourhood, you have more value for it and therefore there is more civic responsibility. This project is all about awareness.”

For the map containing the artwork sites, visit: http://www.facebook.com/goetheinstitut.bangalore.