Friday, February 22, 2019

A town painted red, and blue too.

Odisha was in the news for a good reason recently. It was named best state for promotion of sports at the Sportstar Aces Awards, on account of Bhubaneswar having hosted three successful international events – the hockey World Cup in 2018, and the Asian Athletics Championships and the Hero Super Cup in 2017.

I am sure the state has invested in training infrastructure too. Certainly, Odisha has invested time and money in making sports more visible in the capital city. I was Bhubaneswar recently for a literature festival and found that commuting an aesthetic experience. Long stretches of street-facing walls were covered in murals.

A lot of the art focused on hockey, especially around the Kalinga Stadium. Apart from dynamic images of players in the middle of a game, there was a lot of conceptual art around hockey sticks. One of my favourites was a mural that shows large black ants winding their way around a stick. Another artist had flashes of lightning – or was it a blue pulse? – rising off the stick, as if to suggest an electrifying game.

Mural art has picked up in several cities but the murals in Bhubaneswar struck me as particular. Figures of athletes in motion brought a sense of dynamism to an otherwise quiet street. There was something of their spirit up on the walls, something akin to enthusiasm.

In another part of town, walls have been painted with flowers. Giant blue morning glories are painted such that it seemed the homely flower was demanding its due. There were a few Frida Kahlo murals too, and one I especially remember of the famous artist's face crowded in by a crush of flowers. It was almost as if flowers were emanating from her. Her hand was across her mouth, as if she was trying to hide it, or hold back a laugh, or simply posturing in a manner that could be seductive if you want to see it as that. Or, aghast at such riotous beauty.

There’s another whimsical mural where the artist has painted the feet of an Odissi dancer in motion. The adjacent wall has the eyes of the dancer, dancing with fun, with astonishment, full of rasa.

Looking at those murals made me wonder whose mind and heart was behind them. Who loves morning glories so? Who wants to make Bhubaneswar dance with its eyes?

The murals made me think about how under-utilised public space has been so far. While interiors and a few expensive homes are decorated well, as per the owners' tastes, the side of the wall that faces the street is considered nobody's personal property. Individuals rarely invest in their maintenance.

I grew up looking at urban walls covered in posters, advertisements for everything from black magic to underwear, films to political parties Then, a few years ago in Mumbai, a tiny corner was transformed through the efforts of an art collective that calls itself the Bollywood Art Project. It took nearly a decade for other public spaces to open up, especially suburban railway stations. In Delhi too, there are a few walls covered with graffiti and artwork. By and large though, our cities remain overwhelmingly grey.

Perhaps it is time our city councils and state governments start funding the creation of murals. India barely supports her artists and it is time citizens got access to a glimpse of art through the year, every year. This would serve to keep us interested in each other's imaginations. It would also make commuting a lot less dull.

First published here

1 comment:

nandini said...

superb blog and great post
Thank you for this.....
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