Artists are like magicians. With a brush for a wand, and colours for spells, they create masterpieces that inspire and awe the audience. But some artists don’t just create a feast for the eyes. Through their craft, they attempt to bring about a wave of positive change in society.
This is exactly what the generation of young artists are doing today, through their work in public spaces. By creating compelling art on the walls of abandoned buildings and flyovers, the young artists inspire people to think about their responsibilities as members of society. They believe in breathing new life into the neglected parts of the city, through their paintings and sketches. The art could be about anything—littering, spitting or urinating in public spaces. By expressing themselves this way, not only do the artists make good art available for everyone to see, they also encourage people to stop and think about their responsibilities as citizens.
This International Youth Day, Soulveda speaks to three such artists whose public art in Bangalore is inspiring people to be more mindful and responsible. Their insights are as stimulating as their paintings: they talk about what inspires them to do what they do, and how more young artists must take to public spaces to reform the society.
You make art in public places in Bangalore. What motivates you to do it?
Amitabh Kumar: The primary motivation is to continue the practice of engaging with contexts and places and discover tools through which a place can be understood and reactivated. The other motivation lies within the spectrum of performance, where the act of someone willfully applying paint to a public wall is still seen with some humour and skepticism by the onlooker. It is the opportunity to engage with the passing public and the dialogue that ensues that motivates me. The peripheral motivation is to make art accessible, relevant and inclusive in the manner of its staging to the audience.
Vivek Chockalingam: My motivation comes from two factors—context and unpredictability. The context of it is very interesting, as I am making art in a scenario where everyone is going about their daily lives. The unpredictability factor comes from the thrill of working on the streets, often in unfamiliar spaces. Moreover, I look forward to questions from onlookers and their own interpretations of the art.
Rozri Iqbal: Public spaces are often mistreated by the public. The space under flyovers, especially, tends to be a hub for illicit activities, and there is garbage everywhere. If artists use colour to create neutral designs on the walls, people will appreciate the space. When people see artists working here and converting them into beautiful, people-friendly spaces, they feel a sense of consciousness and responsibility. This motivates me.
What do you intend to convey through your artwork on these walls?
Amitabh Kumar: There is no specific message that I want to communicate through my art in public spaces. Working in public places allows the artist to engage with and understand the ground realities of public life much more acutely, and it is this evolving conversation between the artist and the world that the art on the walls facilitates. To the passive (or engaged) onlooker, the act of painting in public places communicates certain basic responsibility regarding public life and the systems that create it.
Vivek Chockalingam: Through art, I wish to create a sense of ownership amongst the public of these public places. I want people to question and ponder over the subjects explained through the art. People in the city lead busy lives and are bombarded with commercial visuals every second of the day. Public art, then, becomes a spot to put a thought. An idea or question gets conveyed through these visuals.
Rozri Iqbal: My public art does not convey any activism or outcry but a simple message that these walls are being taken care of. This sends a very strong message to those who stick posters, write messages or urinate on the walls. The art appeals to the public. As a result, they might avoid dirtying these spaces.
The role of the youth is to be revolutionaries, and have grander visions for development—visions of us growing as humans, beyond the capitalistic and propaganda-driven society.
As responsible citizens, how do you think we can save our public spaces?
Amitabh Kumar: I think public places save us, rather than us saving them. Cultural Commons keep us from descending into an exclusive, elite and privileged view of public life. In being inclusive and open to different kinds of public, they allow for an imagination of urban life that can escape from the everydayness of it. It is critical, therefore, that pockets like this are preserved and multiplied.
Vivek Chockalingam: Start building a more decentralised governing system where everyone is willing to act on behalf of the neighbourhood. Include the entire neighbourhood in what they call ‘home’. This will have a tremendously positive impact on the safety and quality of the society. There must be a common space where each individual’s voice counts. In a sense, this could be a step towards true democracy. Perhaps, with today’s technology (app world), a system can be developed where decisions can be made as collectives in a more inclusive and streamlined process.
Rozri Iqbal: As responsible citizens, it is our duty to keep our surroundings clean. We can maintain clean surroundings by not throwing garbage in open spaces or road corners. Install dustbins in public spaces to keep the area clean; use public toilets rather than spoiling walls and open spaces. We can also use alternative modes of advertisement than the conventional posters and pamphlets.
Change begins with inner transformation. This transformation happens only when there’s a change in the mindset of the people. How can we bring about this change?
Amitabh Kumar: By being open and inviting participation. The very act of engaging openly with the public by having them witness the process of making art is critical to starting a conversation. It’s great to see that many sites in Bangalore allow such expressions.
Vivek Chockalingam: Compassion is something that is getting lost in cities these days. We see something that is wrong but put on horse blinders because we are busy in our own little world. Inclusiveness and holistic growth can happen, but it will not be an overnight affair. Being compassionate is key to bring about change.
Rozri Iqbal: Education helps in developing a good mindset. It provides a clear picture of how the world or a particular situation actually is. We can also engage in community or social work, where people come together to solve a problem. This exercise gives a person a whole new perspective of the situation.
According to you, what’s the role of youth when it comes to building responsible societies?
Amitabh Kumar: The role of the youth is central in terms of redefining the landscape of cultural production. In order to make art relevant and pertinent, the emerging crop of artists, designers and cultural producers need to be agents of change and actively work together on a culture that is diverse and inclusive in its agenda.
Vivek Chockalingam: The attitude of the youth should be more proactive, they must take responsibility for what is happening around them. If they see something that is wrong, they must speak up. The role of the youth is to be revolutionaries, and have grander visions for development—visions of us growing as humans, beyond the capitalistic and propaganda-driven society.
Rozri Iqbal: As the actions of youth can make or break societies, they have to be extremely mindful about it. By doing this, they can build communities, where people look out for each other. Besides, the youth need to be educated to know their own rights in the society. They must participate in social activities by volunteering for social causes. These activities will help them become role models who inspire others.