Making Bengaluru’s Malleshwaram pedestrian-friendly, one mural at a time

Bengaluru Moving has collaborated with art collective Geechugalu to curate ‘Malleshwaram Hogana!’, 12 murals spread across the neighbourhood in an effort to make it pedestrian-friendly.
Mural titled 'Pourakarmika' by Param in Malleshwaram, Bengaluru
Mural titled 'Pourakarmika' by Param in Malleshwaram, Bengaluru

As you walk through the lanes of Bengaluru’s Malleshwaram, you suddenly find yourself face-to-face with a pair of feet. To be precise – a painting of a woman’s feet captured in motion. You can almost hear her anklets tinkling, her chappals slapping against the ground as she walks, and the rustle of her saree. The mural, titled ‘Within her Stride’ by city-based street artist Anpu Varkey, forces you to stop, to stand still, to take notice.

Walking further down, you find yourself in a hidden conservancy lane and smack dab in the middle of art. On either side of you the walls are painted. The graphic lines and colours give you an impression of movement, there is a play of light and shadow as you walk through. This is the work of city-based muralist Amitabh Kumar, titled ‘Putting the Mull in Malleshwaram’.

These murals are part of 'Malleshwaram Hogana!', an initiative by citizens’ collective Bengaluru Moving in collaboration with art collective Geechugalu. A visual narrative trail told through 12 murals, it takes you from the Malleshwaram bus stop through conservancy lanes, near Seva Sadan and the post office, covering around 1.7 km.

One of the oldest planned neighbourhoods in the city, Malleshwaram was developed soon after the great plague of 1898. And like most areas of that time, it was built with conservancy lanes that run parallel to main roads. These lanes, which are 8 to 10 ft wide, were historically used for manual scavenging. Now, many of these have been encroached upon and used for parking vehicles. Bengaluru Moving is working with the Sustainable Urban Mobility Accords (SUMA) initiative, along with Malleshwaram Social, a citizens group, on the Walkable Malleshwaram project to rectify this.

Bengaluru Moving is made up of individuals and groups based in the city, such as Purpose Climate Lab, Sensing Local and Young Leaders for Active Citizenship, whose goal is to reduce vehicular emissions in the city. Right now, they are working on making the streets of Bengaluru pedestrian-friendly, safer and more accessible, especially for women who walk and cycle. One way they are doing this is by using art.

‘Once upon a time, there were Sampige trees all around’ by Chandana BV

“Street art across the world has shown us that it can make a place appear more friendly, invite more pedestrians and even increase the sense of ownership of locals in the area,” explains Mallika Arya, Senior Campaigner at Purpose, which is a part of Bengaluru Moving.

This is where Geechugalu comes in. Geechugalu, which means scribbles in Kannada, is made up of artists, illustrators and sculptors from the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath. “We’ve been around for the past five years and done a few street art projects. There are around 8-9 of us and we work together with limited resources to create our art,” says Yash Bhandari, Creative Lead of Geechugalu.

Established muralists and first-timers

“We visited the area, walked around and spent time talking to the residents. They are the owners of the space and wall where the mural goes up and eventually the guardians of the work. So we wanted to involve them in the process,” says Yash.

Not only did Geechugalu have their own artists create a few of the works, they also organised the entire effort and provided logistical support. They reached out to sought-after street artists like Anpu and Amitabh to be a part of the project as well.

‘Within her Stride’ by Anpu Varkey

Speaking to TNM, Anpu says, “We walked around Malleshwaram one day and I found a good spot to paint. It was an intersection with many people walking around, and to top it all, the wall was serenaded by five giant coconut trees in the background. ”Anpu pictured a working woman going about her routine, purposefully. That’s how ‘Within her Stride’ came about. She finished the work over a day and a half, spending a total of 12 hours on the mural.

But it wasn’t just well-known artists who were asked to participate. Geechugalu had an open call for artists. “We wanted to give local artists and first-timers a platform to showcase their art,” says Yash.

Bengaluru-based Girija Hariharan, an engineer by education who held a corporate job for years, has been a full-time artist for the past six years. “I have painted all my life and wanted to devote my time entirely towards painting. Most of my murals have been on indoor walls and custom client orders, but recently I have ventured into public street art,” she says. She has been following Geechugalu’s work on Instagram for a while, and when she saw an opportunity to work with them and paint a mural in her home city, she immediately applied.

‘Svagata’ by Girija Hariharan

Her work ‘Svagata’, which took about four days to complete, welcomes you with streams of golden and orange marigolds strung together, a few flowers falling to the ground. In the middle, stands a young woman dressed in green finery and holding a rosewater dispenser behind her, as if waiting to welcome guests at an event. “When I researched conservancy lanes, I learnt about its history of being used mainly by conservatory workers at night, as a result of the casteism that was prevalent in those days. I wanted to shed light on that while simultaneously passing a message of hope for the future,” says Girija.

Murals as varied as the artists

A total of 12 murals were planned when work began on April 1. While eight were completed, the rest were close to completion with only a couple of days of work left. But things came to a halt because of the second wave of the pandemic. Once things improve, the Geechugalu team looks forward to people walking through Malleshwaram and enjoying the murals.

Talking about the muralists, Mallika says, “They went deep to understand what truly makes Malleshwaram special and depicted the same on the walls. This has been appreciated by many locals, some of whom have even come forward to donate their walls for this activity.”

‘Greetings from Malleshwaram’ by Saksham Verma

From Chandana BV’s ‘Once upon a time, there were Sampige trees all around’ to commemorate Sampige Street; to a lady pouring a hot tumbler filled with coffee into a davara in ‘Kaapi Kudithiya’ by Enoch Ebenezer; and the word Malleshwaram painted in bold colourful lettering (each letter containing an image within) in ‘Greetings from Malleshwaram’ by Saksham Verma – the muralists responded to the locality in their own artistic way.

A striking mural that you can’t help but stop and stare at is the giant portrait of a woman looking into the distance, a serious expression on her face. Painted by freelance artist Param, the subject for this work was a pourakarmika, one of the ladies who sweeps the very street her face now graces.

“Initially, she was very shy but I spoke to her, asked about her job and her life, and she slowly became comfortable,” says Param. He painted the mural over two days, even incorporating butterflies that happened to fly by as he was working. “When she saw the final work, she was so happy. She made me take pictures and send it to her family,” he adds.

This is the third such portrait Param has done in the city. “These are people who spend every day in the area keeping it clean, I wanted to celebrate them,” he says.

Why street art matters

Street art is something all the artists who contributed to the project feel very strongly about. “This is the best art form to connect with a maximum number of people,” says Girija, adding, “Street art cannot be possessed or owned by one entity, it’s democratic by nature.” This is art that is not confined to a gallery and only available to a select few, according to Param. “Everyone should have the right to view art and enjoy it,” he says.

Through the project, Bengaluru Moving and Geechugalu hope that people see the art in the neighbourhood and are filled with a sense of pride and ownership. “Through the street art initiative, we really want people to step out and walk around their neighbourhood instead of using their vehicles even for short trips. We want to increase a sense of ownership in the community and also help people reclaim public spaces,” says Mallika.

You might wonder if art matters in the midst of a pandemic. These folks believe it does. The murals fill one with hope, it transports the viewer, and it lets them know that things will be better. As Girija says, “Art always makes sense even when everything else doesn’t.”

All images courtesy Yash Bhandari of Geechugalu.

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