The bandli, a metal plate used to mix concrete, is now a canvas for artists

In Bengaluru’s expat circles, the modest bandli has evolved into an objet d’art, and the funds raised by selling these go to underprivileged people

July 06, 2019 04:01 pm | Updated 05:17 pm IST

A card shows the bandlis readied for the auction.

A card shows the bandlis readied for the auction.

The bandli (or baand) is a fairly utilitarian object: a circular metal plate carried by labourers at construction sites to mix concrete or transport sand. But in Bengaluru’s expat circles, the modest bandli has evolved into an objet d’art, and the funds raised by selling these go to underprivileged people.

The initiative is by Sunshine for a School, a small-scale NGO run by French expats, which works to empower underprivileged children and women through education and skills training. They source bandlis and get the Sunshine members to paint them before repurposing them into sidetables or showpieces. The painted bandlis come in five different sizes (25cm to 50cm), and are priced between ₹2,000 and ₹4,000 each, sold mainly at the IT city’s private expat events

“We run many projects, but we have raised the maximum funds through the bandli project, which is called ‘From One Woman To Another’. It has enabled us to support local NGOs and schools. We now fund the salaries of quite a few teachers,” says Peggy Lejeune, the NGO’s outgoing president.

Moment of inspiration

It was in 2016 that Michele Bellocq saw bandlis in a shop and thought of making them the canvas for art “and to then sell them to support the staff working in her house. Then Michele met us during a workshop for the school and she decided to join hands with us,” says Lejeune.

More than a thousand bandlis have been sold so far, benefiting 102 children, as well as a group of women.

Some artistic variants.

Some artistic variants.

Buoyed by the success of the project, Thierry Bakouche, who will take the reins after Lejeune’s exit, says, “It’s a product that is so local, so Indian, and has now reached Australia, Spain, France and Italy, as the buyers take it along to their next destination.” Lejeune shows us a picture, published on the cover of a French magazine, that shows the elegant interiors of a French home — with a bandli taking centrestage.

In this avatar, the bandli has become a metaphor of hope even though it’s a tool of the most vulnerable sections. “For them, survival is a daily challenge, particularly migrant labourers,” says Lejeune. The project uses the money raised to provide them a modicum of safety, security and education.

Photographer Magali Couffon de Trevos got on board a few months ago and pushed the envelope further by getting 15 Indian, French and Candian artists to reimagine the bandli as art. The resulting works by the likes of Gurudas Shenoy and Shanthamani Muddaiah were auctioned at the French consulate last month. The money raised was enough for Sunshine to pay two teachers for an entire year.

Artistic twists

Bengaluru-based Romicon Revola — known for her gigantic sculptures — found that the concept aligned with her art practice. She painted the bandlis black and welded steel piers onto the rim and at the centre to convert it into a sculpture. “It was very easy for me because I usually work with metal. I really wanted to take the bandli and elevate it,” she says. Her piece was bought by a French architect for around ₹15,000.

Romicon Revola’s bandli sculpture.

Romicon Revola’s bandli sculpture.

While Shan Re painted a canvas in her signature style on the bandli , Devika Sundar’s work was a collage of printed images and objects like seashells, nutshells, feathers, with fabric attached on one side. Another artist gilded the bandli with copper leaf.

With word of the artisan bandli already circulating in Chennai and Delhi, the outfit might make enough for another show next season.

“It’s important for people who come here from different countries to give back. This country has welcomed us. It feels nice to contribute to it in some way,” says De Trevos.

The writer is a journalist with interest in art and culture.

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