Life & Style

Coimbatore’s public spaces turn a canvas for art

Elephant mural at Ukkadam Art District by artist Jeeva and Munir

Elephant mural at Ukkadam Art District by artist Jeeva and Munir | Photo Credit: Jewsin Rebello

French artist Chifumi Krohom’s giant yoni mudra — a symbolic hand gesture that portrays the strength of feminine power— breathes life into a concrete facade at Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board colony in Ukkadam Art District. The graffiti is also a dedication to transgenders who live in the same building and earn a living as caterers. The art district, an initiative of St+art India Foundation, in association with Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation and Asian Paints, is India’s sixth and the State’s second open-to-all public art gallery. “Each design is driven by a powerful story,” says Akmal, assistant project manager of St+art India.

Raja Gopal Sunkara IAS, Corporation Commissioner, says such spaces make the city vibrant. “What we have observed, especially in Ukkadam, is a sense of community where all the residents and children join along and paint. It is a community activity rather than a mere artist’s impression.”

The young and vibrant look brands the city as cosmopolitan and attracts floating population too, he adds. “Metros like Mumbai and also American cities like New York have street art culture that becomes a part of the idea of that particular city. In Tamil Nadu, we are starting the same with Kannagi Nagar in Chennai and Ukkadam here.”

Street art and graffiti that add a pop of colour to everyday walls have become powerful tools of change in the city. The mural on the compound wall of the taluk office near Race Course, for instance, is uplifting. The painting depicts handloom weavers from Negamam (known for its hand-woven saris) and turns the spotlight on the community.

French artist Chifumi Krohom’s giant yoni mudra

French artist Chifumi Krohom’s giant yoni mudra | Photo Credit: Jeswin Rebello

“Art heals,” says award-winning artist V Jeevananthan who, along with a team from Bosch, enlivened the walls of a shelter for abandoned women in Kempatti Colony. They used bright colours to recreate a forest setting complete with tigers and peacocks. Jeeva, founder of Chitrakala Academy that has been grooming budding artists in the city for several decades, is also proud of his 44-feet tall mural that showcases majestic elephants on one of the walls at Ukkadam Art District. “It is inspired by the greenery and wildlife of the Western Ghats. I am 60, but I climbed the scaffolding to finish the work. I am happy to see the buzz around art in the city.”

A quick stroll through lanes featuring art engages one with colourful abstractions, lettering fonts, aesthetics, and more. The creators say that art in public spaces is an attempt to make art democratic. “St+art India takes art out of conventional spaces to break down socio-cultural barriers,” says Vikas Nagrare, director for special projects at St+art. They chose Ukkadam, a neglected neighbourhood, to bridge the gap between marginalised communities and the general public. “We have done nine murals so far. We also plan to develop a multi-purpose scrap-to-sculpture park where installations will be developed from through scrap. We engage with local communities through workshops and sensitise them on how they can be custodians of this habitat,” explains Vikas.

Art by Poornima and Sadhana

Art by Poornima and Sadhana | Photo Credit: Pranav Gohil

The team kick-started the Coimbatore initiative with Kovai Art Trail in 2018, with murals on a number of buildings in the city. A vibrant palette that graces the walls of Jawan’s Bhavan (Ex-Servicemen’s Building) by artist Nasto Mhoha is inspired by the plastic wire koodai (basket) of Tamil Nadu. It shows a woman in a Kanjeevaram sari, holding a mythological yali.

Kathmandu-born artist Kiran Maharjan’s work at the cancer ward wall of Coimbatore Medical College Hospital depicts the cotton crop and pays homage to the working class.

Integrating community

One of the landmark works, stares out of the city’s 75-feet long District Library facade. It features faces from the trans community, makes use of geometric patterns of Kovai kora cotton saris in warm colours, and sports the text ‘Indru Namadhey.’ Bengaluru-based artists Poornima Sukumar and Sadhna Prasad, founder of the Aravani Art Foundation, came together to integrate the transgender community into society through public art. At Police Commissioner’s Office building one can see a Thanjavur doll in holding a smartphone instead of striking a signature mudra, done by artist Shiv Kumar Akula. “It’s not just about a cosmetic makeover for the building but also involving the community in skill building through with art workshops. We collaborated with 14 artists including international ones,” points out Akmal, adding that the Ukkadam project was completed in two phases, the latest one themed around everyday objects, especially sanitisers and masks that have become a part of everyone’s routine.

Artist Mamta Singh’s graffiti at Kovai.Co, a SaaS company

Artist Mamta Singh’s graffiti at Kovai.Co, a SaaS company | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Besides public spaces, corporate companies are also adding colour to office interiors to make the space welcoming for employees. Rajasthan-based artist Mamta Singh was recently in the city to createa graffiti work on the walls at Kovai.Co, a SaaS company. She painted a design featuring terms from the Coimbatore dialect, like epdiirukeenga, angittu ingittu, and akkaporu. “Several budding artists from here have a strong presence on Instagram,” says Mamta.

Adds Vivek, “Upcoming artists from the city got an opportunity to work closely with international artists. It has triggered an art movement in the city.”


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Printable version | Jun 23, 2022 11:16:58 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/coimbatores-public-spaces-turn-a-canvas-for-art/article65340665.ece