The exhibition named ‘City in Transit – Bangalore.1.Shanthiroad @ Theertha’, which displayed multimedia and other visual works addressing and confronting the dynamics of Bangalore City organized by the Theertha International Artists’ Collective, was held from 4th to 15th December 2010 at the Red Dot Gallery, Baddegana, Pitakotte. The exhibition curated by Jayaram Suresh consisted of diverse art-making practices such as documentaries on Bangalore, video art projections, prints, photographs and paintings of Indian artists. Both local and foreign spectators of the exhibition included artists, lecturers, under graduates and schoolchildren.
The importance of the exhibition lies in the attempt taken by the participating artists in projecting a realistic picture of enormously changing Bangalore City with the aid of multimedia. This attempt was given a subjective blend when some artists had included paintings or perhaps a combination of paintings and photography. In other words, while capturing what they really experience the artists have tried to convey the past and present and the aspirations made on the future of the city.
As stated by Madhu D, one of the participating artists their “ works become a visual response to the absurdity of a city that seems permanently at siege, the moaning of loss and the mocking of a city that seems to be waking up late and has been caught napping”. In this way, the exhibitors have given their significance to capture the transition taken place in Bangalore City from a “garden city” to an “IT Capital” or as the “Silicon Valley of India”.
This essay aims at appraising as to whether the exhibition succeeded in conveying its main theme, how effective the use of multimedia was and to what extent the audience grasped the theme of the exhibition. The essay would also limit its discussion to a selected set of artworks in reviewing the exhibition.
Further reading to the theme of the exhibition
Before moving on to an appraisal of the exhibition, it is worthwhile to have a detailed idea about the central concept of the exhibition. As put forward by the curator, the art work in the exhibition tries to map the Metropolis of the changing Bangalore City. Gaining an understanding or a historical reading about the growth and development agendas that influenced the Bangalore City will be useful in order to evaluate as to what extent the artists have succeeded in depicting the so-called transition.
Firstly, when looking at the recent history of the Bangalore City it was the British who brought out plans to convert it to a “modern Indian City” by town planning and landscaping. In addition, the Silver Jubilee celebrations of Krishnarajendra Wodeyar IV too had influenced in giving a modern identity to the Bangalore City. With these efforts, the city became well planned while allowing more space for nature. There the city got its identity as a “garden city” .Then the city underwent the political agendas of the post-colonial India. As stated by Jayaram Suresh,
“The map of Bangalore has been drawn and re-drawn over the decades to promote an identity for an evolving city. Each of these political moves has had a social and cultural impact; diverse visions have located the city in the different local, national and global agendas. With the advent of public sector companies and institutions during the Nehruvian era, the face of the city changed. The vision of Bangalore as a garden city began to be sacrificed for the development of industry.”
By 1990, the city underwent a boom in Information Technology and that made for its further modernity and economic growth. As a result, the environment was neglected and the city dwellers had no gardens for recreational purposes but only a surrounding with concrete pillars. The latter part of the curators note deals much with the harm caused by development on the environment of the Bangalore city and the threat paused by it to the city’s natural, architectural and cultural heritage.
A short review on some selected Art Works
When looking at the exhibition as a whole most of the art works it had were explicitly or implicitly revealing its main theme. Firstly, I would like to draw some remarks on the edited prints of Madhu D.
His prints dealt more with the heavy constructions carried out in the Bangalore City. He has extracted and inserted an image of a tower of a flyover in the Bangalore city. The use of a single pillar shows the impact of urbanization and constructions. However, pillars are often used to show power or hegemony of past when it comes to Greek art and sculpture. Yet, here the artist has used pillars to show that there is a monopoly of construction over the nature, culture and the society of Bangalore. He has placed various symbols representing various aspects and institutions of the society. For example, the third picture shown above includes a tower carrying logs and pieces of wood. This suggests how trees are cut down for developmental purposes. Not only trees but also religious institutions, legal system, education, transportation and lives of people are influenced by the change taken place in the Bangalore city.
The artist’s use of photography in generating the artwork affirms that he has depicted reality rather than fantasy. Though simple and straightforward, the artist’s attempt becomes successful in depicting the transition taken place in every nook and corner of Bangalore. Hence, the collection of prints by Madhu D sufficiently overlaps with the theme of the exhibition.
Secondly, the drawings by Venu Gopal, named as “Perceptions from and urban diary”, address “the issue of urban identities, displacement and the temporal picturesque imagination of the future that they suggest”. The drawing below elaborates how urbanization has made a distance between man and nature. The trees drawn in the picture are small and placed at a distance. Though the citizens of Bangalore are given high hopes of a picturesque future, neither is their present colored by nature as it used be in their past nor could it be assured that the future would be so. Through the visual representation of black and white, Gopal hints the mixed feelings of people of loss and hope.
Moreover, the unlocked padlock in the print below implies that the Bangalore city is opened up for change with less or no resistance. The empty chair facing the buildings shows that the city is no longer gifted with natural heritage to view and enjoy due to the emptiness created by mere concrete.
The lines drawn from side to side with no strict pattern or order hints the unplanned chaos undergone by the city. The empty chair suggests emptiness generated by accelerated development rather than sustainability. I would like to read this drawing as one with few symbols leading to a widely spread meaning.
Next, I would like to elaborate on the image below extracted from the exhibition. This shows an ancient Indian staircase used to climb up taken from an Indian shrine. This picture clearly shows the conflict between modern and ancient creations whilst implying that modernity overtakes the ancient creations and culture. The religion and religious institutions too are affected by the modernity and transition.
The image below can be commented as reflecting the incomplete constructions the shadows fallen behind hints that people look for their preferred past than the messy, confused present. The nude portraits of a man in a chronological order imply transition or the evolution towards modernity. The dark and dull colours again add a passive touch to the image and there is no emotional narrative shown through the human images. These images also suggests and takes ones attention to the idea of modernity brought out by western scholars like W.W. Rostow on evolutionary theories of modernization. This theory suggests that a country has to pass historical stages in order to seek modernization.
The two images above explicitly display the transition that has taken place in the Bangalore city. The first one depicts the present situation of Bangalore streets at night glittering with lights and crowded with vehicles on newly created highways and flyovers. The second picture shows the city which was under construction before reaching the present stage. On both images, a sculpture of Krishnarajendra Wodeyar IV who worked to create a modern identity to Bangalore is depicted. Krishnarajendra who looks at the city lying beneath him seems to be treated as a hero for initiating the development of the City.
The picture below is not with Krishnarajendra Wodeyar but with a modern politician who drafted recent agendas for the Bangalore city. The tree grown in a concrete surface highlights the limited space available for nature. I see this painting as the most relevant one among the rest of the lithographic paintings to the theme of the exhibition. In my opinion the rest of the lithographs do not carry much meaning when it comes to the theme of the exhibition.
Before moving on to a review on selected documentaries I would also like to leave a comment on the pictures below. The first picture which depicts a partly demolished building suggests change and development.
It does not provide a pleasant view for the city dwellers. The other picture shows a riverbank covered with skyscrapers. These two images make me recall the first two lines of the poem “London” by William Blake.
Blake says that when he walks through the industrialized City of London he feels as if he is walking in a chartered street.
“I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe”
As for Blake, commercialized and industrialized streets corrupt the nature and in turn make people suffer. This same meaning can be drawn when discussing the above pictures showing the urbanization in the Bangalore city.
I would also like to question the importance of the collection of digital prints depicting Hindi movies. Though it is intended to show the visual culture of the city, I only see it as a mere collection of seductive images with less sense. This same remark I would like to leave at Prasad’s short video named “Das Kabees”. Any collection of photographs put together does not become a meaningful artwork. I consider the four short films presented at the exhibition as depicting the social issues of Bangalore in transit.
This exhibition I see as a wide collection of multimedia without just limiting to paintings or photography. The effective usage of multimedia has helped a lot in capturing a realistic picture about the dynamics of Bangalore. Though some art works and short movies were of less artistic value the exhibition overall succeeded in fulfilling the objective of the exhibition. Thus, the artists have succeeded in creating a strong impression about the changing Bangalore city and the aspects of the lives of its people.