At the busy Urwa market junction in Mangaluru, five artists gathered with appropriate distancing. They worked tirelessly over two days to paint a mural on the wall of a bakery which faces the junction. When they finished the mural, the welcoming face of a local fisherwoman stared back at them from the wall.
“Urwa is known for its fish market so we wanted to highlight the Mogaveera (fisher) community when we decided to make this mural,” says Pruthvi Raj, a 28-year-old artist from Mangaluru, pointing out that many in the city are not familiar with the community or its traditions which are deeply tied to the region’s history.
In a city where public walls are hardly filled with street art, a young group of artists — Pixncil— is looking to share art, regional history and a social message through their public work.
Watch TNM's video on the group of artists
The group calls itself Pixncil since they work on both pixels (digital art) and pencils (traditional art). Far from being a rebellious group making unlawful graffiti art, the group took permission from the bakery owner Ramesh before painting the mural. “We showed the concept to the owner and readied the paints,” says Pruthvi Raj. “We began at 7 am on Saturday (September 26) and worked till late in the night. Then we continued throughout Sunday until we finished it.”
“The only issue was we had not told Kusuma (the fisherwoman in the mural) that we would be making such a large mural of her!” says Pruthvi.
“I didn’t know they were going to make such a large painting,” Kusuma says with a hint of indignation when she is asked about the mural. “I had just come back to sell fish in the market after a six-month break and these kids said they will take a photo of me for a painting. Few days later, people came to the market to tell me my painting is on the wall at the junction!” says Kusuma.
But after soundly and publicly rebuking the artists initially (at the shock of seeing herself on the wall), Kusuma relented and posed for photographs with the group.
Kusuma’s initial reaction is not out of place in Mangaluru. The city’s public places are not known for graffiti art or murals and the artists say that many local residents show an indifference to the idea of street art. “For the past one year, whenever we asked for space to paint on a wall, we were not taken seriously because people did not have an idea of what we are doing. The idea of an artist here is someone who makes paintings (on paper) but not art like this on huge walls,” says Vinod, another artist from the group.
Pixncil is made up of Pruthvi Raj, Vinod, Ajesh Sajipa, Nithesh Kanyadi and Abhijit Devadiga, five friends from their college days at the Mahalasa School of Visual Art in Mangaluru who now work as commercial painters in the city. The group has painted the walls of popular restaurants like Empire, Anmol and K9 in Mangaluru as well as the walls inside the city commissioner’s office.
“We used to do commercial work even in college and we feel we learnt so much by taking up painting and other odd jobs like painting Hulivesha (tiger dance) artists in Mangaluru. This group of college friends have stuck together for almost nine years now. We do commercial work during the week to earn money but for a long time now, we wanted to spread a strong social message through our art,” he says.
Pruthvi Raj completed his Bachelors degree in Applied Arts at the Mahalasa School of Visual Art before doing his masters degree at the Government College of Art and Craft in Kolkata. “The kind of art I saw there (in Kolkata) was very different to what I have seen in Mangaluru. There was a lot of resistance art seen on walls and I thought why this concept cannot be replicated in Mangaluru,” says Pruthvi.
The group made its first mural on September 20 — a week before the mural of the fisherwoman — in Mangaluru’s Chilimbi to spread the message of taking care of elderly citizens during the pandemic. The mural showed an elderly man with the caption, “It’s you tomorrow,” alongside a banana peel symbolic of how elderly citizens are left to fend on their own.
But it was the second mural — the fisherwoman at the Urwa market junction they completed on September 27 — which captured the public’s attention. “The second one was in a busy area and a lot of people stopped to look at what we were doing, including the MLA Vedavyas Kamath who was here to inaugurate a floodlight,” Vinod says.
The paints left over from their commercial jobs were used for the mural but despite making make-shift arrangements, the cost of making the mural in Urwa came up to Rs 30,000, mostly incurred in arranging the scaffold and transport to support the work crew. The friends work hard in their day jobs to make ends meet, so they had to make other arrangements to collect the money for the mural. They roped in the Derebail Central (Ward -26) corporator Ganesh Kulal to help smoothen the process.
The group says they have only just begun and want to build a habit of making murals in Mangaluru when they have time off on the weekends. “We want to make murals about keeping Mangaluru’s beaches clean. We also want to highlight the cultural tradition of Tulu Nadu like Aati Kalenja. The young people living in this city may not have an idea about it but if they see it on a mural, they may ask older people about what it is and get to know about the cultural heritage of this region,” Pruthvi says.
Aati Kalenja is an ancient traditional folk art form practiced in Tulu Nadu (coastal Karnataka region where Tulu is spoken) which the locals believe brings prosperity during the month of Aati (monsoon season) in the Tulu calendar.
But what about street art on topics that everyone may not agree on? Murals around the world take jabs at the worst tendencies of governments and people. But in Mangaluru, a city where communal and political tensions are often heightened to the point of violence, the group does not feel confident enough to make murals on political topics just yet. “We don’t know how people in Mangaluru will respond to art that is about current affairs topics like the investigation into the usage of drugs or the Hathras rape case. If people are mature, they will be able to engage with it but we don’t know what the reaction will be. We may have to do it away from the city,” admits Pruthvi.
While this may take time, the group is now busy scouting walls in Mangaluru to fill the city with more art. “All we ask is give us a wall and the freedom to design the mural. If we compromise on this, then it is no different to what we do in our day-job,” says Pruthvi.