[Reader-list] proposal on signage &public art

Namita M namitaa at rediffmail.com
Wed Dec 25 18:40:33 IST 2002

Raheema and Namita

Shivajinagar in Bangalore, inspite of its name is not predominantly Hindu, but a high density area with a sizable population of Muslims, Christians and Hindus. Shivajinagar displays a diversity of phenomenon in a small geographical space almost easily covered by foot – it is a bazaar, a residential area, a place for religious processions, for pirated goods and also for fish and crab. It has several intricately carved temples dotting the entire area including the market place, a large church which is the focus of many religious processions including St. Mary’s Feast, old mosques and new brightly painted ones, dargahs and also a huge Russell market for vegetables, fruit and meat which is frequented by all classes and sections of society in Bangalore. 

Here symbols jostle in a limited geographical space with each other, including commercial signs, political messages, government dictates, messages about love, pimps. The question almost is how do these symbols communicate with each other, and what varied meanings do these symbols have for the people. Religious and cultural symbols of different communities almost crowd each other out including a mural of Mother and Child on a wall owned by a madrassa. 

In the many layers of urban experience, we want to see if there exist symbols, messages, murals or any other material in the public sphere that people engage with, and which inspires and involves them in the course of their daily existence. Material which plays a role in giving an insight into the person they are, into their society and the relations between people. Our purpose is to find, document and in the end to contribute to the formation of visual, audio and any other engaging material in the public sphere, that people will believe is owned by them and they can change its form as easily as the meanings of various symbols change in the day-to-day lives of people.

Some of the concerns because of which both of us through different journeys reached a point of actually writing a proposal for an idea like this is because of how social movements and popular mobilizations chose to engage with people. The use of predominantly textual material, and the process by which expereinces of people are translated through the use of langague of human rights and liberal values, emphasizing cruelty of violations. Here personal accounts are for campaigns, and histories are lost, other connected stories lose their relevance. Our concerns are also related to the growing domination of Hindutva imagery in the public sphere, and the discomfort that even seemingly innocent images of Hinduism and Hindu nationalism are shrinking spaces for anonymity and/or belonging for Muslims, Christians and other groups. 


 “The world is full of screens, the artist’s job is to pull them down”
Jean Renoir

“Art must take reality by surprise”
					Francoise Sagan

“In jazz, there are no wrong notes”
					Miles Davis

“We’re not confirmed anythings”
					Raheema and Namita

Public art is a form of art that participates in or creates a space for politics, it is art that operates as or in public sphere. And here public art as public sphere will be where we can have interactions and use public art to communicate, inspire discussions and ideas. Researching the contemporary signage in an area, will familiarize us with the possibilities of public art there, the spaces available and what people find communicates and appeals to them. Through this process the meaning of various symbols, the daily lives of the community, the distribution of commercial, private and public spaces will be imbibed and then in turn help in the process of creating public art that plays an intimate role and shocks and surprises with insights that it gives into the person and society. 

Its easier to get people to look at something than to come to a protest or read a pamphlet. Yet somehow the uses of public art as a discursive practice in the public sphere have so far been limited. Good art has the ability to engage in a way that is almost insidious and at an unconscious level. It allows for a diversity of meanings for different people, and also for changing of meanings.

Some of the ideas that that we want to include are the following:

 	Public storytelling is a practice that we employed before in Ahmedabad with children and adults ranging from stories by Manto, Parsai and also fairytales like Ali Baba aur Chalis Chor. Here we want to do storytelling either through murals and by a person simply telling a story. These stories would deal with politics, corruption, love and other issues.
 	Audio String- Recording the sounds of an area, things people say, songs on radio, car sirens, azaan, chanting, puja bells, calls for selling goods and then making an audio string or piece of music out of it. The juxtaposition of various sounds, the seeming conversation between them, and one sound as a background to another is what we want to bring out. To this a person can add a line, sound, chuckle or anything to strings of previous recordings of other people in Shivajinagar.
 	Using a bioscope to show old, new, tinted and redone images found within Shivajinagar, inter-cultural marriages, images of a bazaar in Pakistan etc.; Egyptian photography or paradigm shift will involve taking photographs or portraits of people, changing a few details like background, hair, jewelry and thus transporting them to another time and place, allowing people to experience different belongings; encouraging graffitti on walls or screens that we put up; using traditional Rangoli designs juxtaposing a surprising image within them; murals of imagery that is similar in the Koran, Upanishads, Vedas, Bible, Gita and any other religious text; using commonly seen images at the back of autos or other popular images from cinema. The idea is to engage with people during the making of such murals, and allowing them to communicate with the work by adding to it later. 

 	An interactive Mural would be a comic strip using Mughal miniature style or various other styles of painting like kitsch, bringing out social, political issues that are relevant to the area in a quixotic, humourous way. This will born out of familiarity with the area and growing interactions that will then give us ideas as to what issues should be illustrated. If a daily or weekly event then it could become something that the community becomes familiar with and expects, much as we expect Amul advertisements to take pot-shots regardless of whether we consume Amul butter or not.
What we want to do is to create art that questions. Art, especially that whose creators interact with you, and art that is mutable because of you, will be an exciting difference on the urban landscape. The people in their interactions with the makers and the installation or art become part of it. While the structure is being put up they are drawn into a discussion as to how they would like their society to be, and how that or various other visions and ideas they have can be made part of the installation or work of art as one of the many voices speaking out. Once the installation is up they can still contribute in various ways – by speech, by writing, drawing, being taped and played back becoming part of the public art that then replays to everyone else what their individual and collective ideas are. 

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