A look at the impact of the street art project by Indian and international artists in Malleswaram, one year on
Shoppers and commuters passing by 6th Cross, Sampige Road in the past year, may have noticed a curious sight: to the right side of the road, a wall on a crumbly building bears a painting of a large, wrinkled face, with the words ‘Ignorance is Blindness of the Soul’.
The painting was done in February 2012 by Hendrik ‘ECB’ Beikirch, a German graffiti artist known for his large murals in public places.
Hendrik and nine other artists, were painting Malleshwaram’s walls as part of Urban Avant-Garde, a project from the Goethe Institut, and Malleswaram Accessibility Project, a neighbourhood-specific initiative by Jaaga and the Directorate of Urban Land Transport.
These ten artists — both Indian and German — produced 17 murals across Malleswaram in various public spots, notably the Malleswaram Railway Station, the playground on 7th Cross, and various other walls.
Response to BBMP art
The aim of the project seemed to be simple: a diversification of the city’s visual aesthetic, especially in the face of the BBMP public paintings.
“Our take on it was simple,” writes Jaaga’s Archana Prasad in ‘Collide, Explode and Converse’, an essay on the Urban Avant-Garde project. “This one visual aesthetic that BBMP had funded was going to be what the layman associated with visual art for years to come.”
And so, the murals on offer represent a variety of themes: from labour to takes on aspects of urban life such as auto rides, and ‘Indian’ iconography such as the cow, as well as more abstract paintings. On an inner part of 7th Cross stands one blue raised fist, vibrantly accompanied by the words ‘Aam Aadmi’ and the signature ‘One Month of Urban Avant-Garde’, painted over a faded Indian Oil advertisement. When we recently visited it, newer posters had started to cover the wall again, and a small mound of garbage had begun to collect.
The impact that this “expression of urban culture” had on the immediate neighbourhood has been mixed. The murals undoubtedly add a splash of colour to the area — and, perhaps, spark a moment of recognition for those who followed the well-publicised Urban Avant-Garde events. But whether the paintings actually represent anything to those around is unclear. Several regular passers-by near one painting outside the playground admitted they had not noticed it, or if they had, hadn’t thought much of it; one shopkeeper had to be directed to the ‘Aam Aadmi’ painting that sat just opposite his shop before he could comment on it.
H. Ramesh Babu, a fruit-seller who vends his goods opposite the ‘Ignorance’ wall on Sampige Road, says “Great, worldwide artist,” when I ask him who painted the wall. But he also recalls that in the early days of the painting itself, the work drew a lot of attention from schoolchildren. He has now taken upon himself the job of explaining and interpreting, in his own view, the mural to passers-by; “Ignorance is bad,” he says. “The younger generation should be told not to only chase after money, and go in search of knowledge instead.”
More recently, the entire project has been chronicled and collected in ‘Urban Avant-Garde’, a book that was released earlier this month.