Aesthetics on the go

On a terrace with a corrugated-metal roof, Sehaj Sahni waves me to a cable bobbin. It’s one of many cable bobbins that serve as chairs.

Worse for wear, these bobbins came at ₹30 each. With putty and paint — a different colour carefully chosen for each bobbin — they were transformed into art with a workaday function. Similarly, discarded doors were turned into rectangular tables, and three drums into circular ones.

I am at “the arts and culture” space of Urban Desi House in Thoraipakkam, where Sahni, an IT professional-turned-restaurateur-cum-sociopreneur is seeking to create a free space for artistic and intellectual expression.

A wall has been offered free for artists to display and sell their paintings and framed photos. Elsewhere, works of 11 artists hang from cords, as part of an open art exhibition. Visitors are encouraged to comment on the works using sticky notes. The terrace also offers free space for groups following other creative pursuits.

“Chennai Comedy does an open mike every Tuesday. The local chapter of League of Indie Filmmakers meets every month. And, we organise what we call ‘Young Weirdos Meetup’, which is for the square-pegs-in-the-round-holes who have ideas that are ahead of their times. As the world is not yet ready for them, their ideas may be met with scorn, but here, they are shared and celebrated,” explains Sahni.

“There is no attempt to make any money through these events. It’s not even necessary for them to order food and beverages at our café. But, they usually do,” says Sahni. The café functions on the ground floor, where again art and ideas have a free run. Vinyl stickers with images that marry the cosmopolitan to the desi adorn its walls.

Sahni, who is from Patna, has been a part of the IT Corridor since 2008, first as a student at Sathyabama University and then as a quality analyst and organisational blogger at an IT major, and now as an entrepreneur. The cosmopolitan character of the IT Corridor is what attracted Sahni to it and now keeps him there.

Sahni’s work develops the theme set forth in last week’s column about spaces for arts and culture on OMR. Here, arts and culture are tucked into multi-purpose and informal spaces. Going by the fact that the one-and-a-half-year-old Urban Desi House started with three employees and now has 16, this approach seems to work. Young IT professionals make up the vast chunk of Sahni’s customer base.

Factoring in the demographics and physiognomy of OMR, Kaustav Sengupta, associate professor, National Institute of Fashion Technology, suggests two approaches. As this stretch has huge residential spaces, especially gated communities, the parks attached to them could be promoted as cultural spaces. In addition to this, there can also be invitation-only closed spaces that offer a niche fare, he elaborates.

According to Senthil Ram of Splatter Studio, the long median on OMR can be a canvas for art. At present, pedestrians crossing the busy stretch at undesignated points, by jumping the plant-lined median and taking motorists by surprise, is a concern. He asks, “Why not create an art median — a concrete wall with a narrow roof-like structure on top to protect the works of art — that can put an end to this traffic problem and at the same time make the road look beautiful?”

Art finds a way of reflecting the prevailing social and cultural climate of a place, says Shekar Sitaraman of Auromatrix. On OMR, there is growing awareness about responsible waste management and upcycling, largely because of a huge number of gated communities. Art reflecting such socio-environmental concerns resonates with its residents. In this context, Sitaraman points out the popularity “of the cow created by Ilango sir, with discarded plastics,” which is displayed at the Aloft hotel.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 4:37:20 AM |

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