BENGALURU, India — In Malleshwaram, one of the oldest planned neighborhoods in Bengaluru, India, a beautiful street art project is trying to make the area pedestrian-friendly. The project, called Malleshwaram Hogona (“Let’s go to Malleshwaram”), was started by Bengaluru Moving, which advocates for sustainable mobility across the city. It was organized in collaboration with local artist collective Geechugalu, urban planning body Sensing Local, Malleshwaram Social (a Residents Welfare Association), and volunteers.
It isn’t common to see street art in a traditional area such as Bangalore, and what stands out on this art tour is how seamlessly local stories became integrated into the in-situ works: local sampige flowers adorning a wall; “Malleshwaram” written boldly in English and Kannada and filled with locally identifiable visual cues; a Malleshwaram woman drinking filter coffee… Some works were integrated into the homes themselves, breathing new life to the facade. Others appeared on the walls of institutions and amidst the bustling flower market.
Right before the city went into lockdown in April of 2021, 13 artists created 12 artworks for the endeavor. During a walkthrough of all the artworks, Yash Bhandari, creative lead of Geechugalu, explained the inspiration behind each artist’s mural, the history of Malleswaram, and the future of this project.
“Being locals, we know the sensibilities and the caste, language, and political dynamics of each area. We came in as creative placemakers on making Malleshwaram walkable through art and design,” shares Yash. When Bengaluru Moving approached Geechagalu for the project, Yash pitched the idea of a narrative trail that aligns with the campaign’s walking agenda. “Street art really helps reimagine what a place can look like, and what has the most impact, because a lot of us are more visual than analytical.”
As the walking tour came together, each of the applying artists pitched a rough idea to Geechagalu. Based on sketches, the ideation process began. “We didn’t give the artists a theme because we believe in the process, not pre-design. It was more about inhabiting a site and letting the ideas emerge from their experience of it,” adds Yash. The actual works were created in the 10 days before Bengaluru’s two-month lockdown with the help of volunteers.
Yash and Shreevyas, both artists from Geechugalu, wandered Malleshwaram for weeks while preparing for the project. On finding the right spots, Yash and the community manager Hari helped procure permissions and went to every house whose facade they wanted to paint on with a supporting letter from all the authorities. “Before we started working on them, these spaces were neglected, faded and used for parking or throwing garbage,” shares Yash, adding that the backdoors were also casteist by design, being located along sewage systems and meant for use only by lower caste workers.
There was no formal opening or inauguration for the tour, since the art trail was created in backlanes, which are open for the public. The entire art walk spans 1.7 kilometers (approximately one mile) and can be explored with the aid of an illustrated street art trail map by Maanvi Kapur, which highlights the sensorial experience of walking through Malleshwaram’s secret lanes.
The success of the art trail can already be seen in the reactions of the community members of Malleshwaram, who have been watching the artists work, offering coffee, taking selfies with the artworks, and encouraging the artists to paint more walls in the future. “We’d guide the curious public even during the painting phase and show them where to go see the next mural in progress,” says Yash.
Geechagalu plans to crowdfund the next set of murals in Malleshwaram, separate from the Malleshwaram Hogona initiative. In fact, the next phase will be run entirely by the young volunteers and local artists under the mentorship of Geechugalu, informs Yash, as a way of enabling knowledge sharing and democratizing the creative process. To make the art trail more visible, signages will be placed as QR codes by Bengaluru Moving and virtual tours will be organized by Gully Tours and Bengaluru Moving.
Let us take you on the Malleshwaram Hogana walk virtually and introduce you to each artist’s work.
Greetings from Malleshwaram by Saksham Verma
At the BMTC bus stand, a typographical mural by Saksham Verma captures the various facets of “Malleshwaram” using the letters of its name. Inside of “M,” he depicts delicious dosas found in every nook and corner of Malleshwaram; in “A,” he shows the auto drivers roaming the area; in “L,” he uses floral motifs, a nod to the popular flower markets of Malleshwaram. Highlighting local food to filter coffee to the lake nearby, his playful mural stands out in both English and Kannada.
Svagata by Girija Hariharan (2flatbrush)
Making her public art debut, Girija Hariharan’s stunning mural appears in the back lanes of a typical Malleshwaram house, known as conservancy lanes, and acts as a backhanded Svagata (welcome). It alludes to class and caste dynamics of the area, hinting that you’re welcome or not depending on who you are. The work depicts toranas, a garland made from mango leaves and marigold flowers, often hung on doors during auspicious occasions.
Once upon a time, there was a tree by Chandana B.V
A stunning ode to Malleshwaram’s sampige trees, Chandana B.V’s work attempts to capture the nostalgia of these plants, which are disappearing from the roads. The artist was inspired by her father, who would bring home its deeply fragrant flowers from every visit to Malleshwaram.
Malleshwaram’s sparrows by Spandana Vella
Spandana Vella’s mural tenderly depicts the loss of Malleshwaram’s sparrows. Being a ceramist, Spandana is also creating pots for the disappearing population of sparrows to drink water from, which will be placed on the wall.
Kaapi Kudithiya by Enoch Dheeraj Ebenezer
Filter coffee is the pride of Malleshwaram; the scent of chicory often wafts through the air. Enoch’s first mural of an Ajji (lady) pouring coffee captures his love for filter coffee, the quintessential Bangalore experience.
Pourakarmika by Parameshwar Waran
A powerful, hyper-realistic mural, Parameshwar Waran pays tribute to the pourakarmikas (waste separators) of Malleshwaram. He paints a portrait of Narayanamma, who works in the conservancy lane. Silently responsible for the cleanliness of the areas, the pourakarmikas are the early morning workforce who maintain the streets.
Within her stride by Anpu Varkey
One of the most senior artists in the project, Anpu Varkey took less than two days to create her mural, which portrays the stride of a sari-clad woman during her daily commute in Malleshwaram. This iconic mural captures the essence of the campaign — to make Malleshwaram walkable — and shows women reclaiming public spaces by walking. It appears on the wall of Seva Sadan, a significant cultural space primarily run by women.
Gejjeya nada by Shreevyas
On Doraiswamy Iyengar Street, named after the famous Carnatic musician, Shreevyas plays with color and motifs taken from Indian classical music and dance like hand mudras, eyes, and instruments. Merging the traditional with modern, Shreevyas’ mural is aptly located on the walls of the Seva Sadan, a space for cultural performances.
Malleshwaram in a glimpse by Meghana Yeri and Dhanush Kiran
This mural in progress by a local Malleshwaram artist couple is a map based on public nostalgia and memory to Malleswaram’s natural biodiversity, like its sampige, neem, and mahogany trees. The wall strategically leads directly to the Flower Market.
Post it! by Abhijeet Rao
Located near the Malleshwaram post office, this work plays with the idea of a postcard from the future of Malleshwaram, which arrived through the post office and onto the wall. The time-traveling postcard reminds us to pause and reflect.
Sakkare kaddi by Shivu Mahesh
A sculptor by profession, Shivu Mahesh’s mural is an homage to methai gadiyara, the neighborhood hawkers who create watches, toys, and all kinds of shapes out of taffy, much to children’s delight. A common sight in Malleshwaram, the mural induces a nostalgia of Malleshwaram’s old charm and the joys of childhood.
Putting the mull in Malleshwaram by Amitabh Kumar
The final and largest-scale artwork by Amitabh Kumar spans walls on both sides of a hidden away conservancy lane. The site-specific, immersive work emerged as a fluid process, with the artist whitewashing the walls and then playing with light and shadow as it fell on the facade, and creating lines with one color at a time. It resulted in an almost psychedelic space with layers of lines, form, movement, and color. The idea is to use the conservancy as a recreational site for senior citizens.
A book forms a disturbing, diverse account of a very turbulent year.
By the end of my commissioned project, it was obvious that the agency owner had no respect for me as an artist, a contractor, or even as a person.
See the encapsulating images shortlisted for the 2021 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.