The MG Road Boulevard, thanks to its central location, was just that: a boulevard with pretty bougainvillea flowers where Bangaloreans walked past. But once thanks to the Metro, and the line from MG Road to Byappanahalli being opened, Rangoli Metro Art Centre (R-MAC) has certainly redefined the space.
“It’s been about 11 months now; we started in May last year,” recalls curator Sur ekha, adding that the bougainvillea that have bloomed again at the boulevard add to the celebratory spirit of the completion of a year.
Initially, she tells City Express, the intention was to make Bangalore and the nostalgia of the bygone years and experiences the focus.
“We had photo and picture exhibitions that reflected this spirit, and I can’t tell you how touching it is to watch senior citizens sit at Vismaya and Chaya art galleries reliving those days for hours,” she says.
But this is a place where past meets present. So while a Bangalore that the present generation hasn’t seen has got its due, so have the current civic issues that make the city the chaotic urban space it is.
“Namma Ooru, Namma Neeru, a group show that featured photographs from 13 amateurs that spoke volumes of the water problems of the city, rainwater harvesting, recharging open wells and reviving lakes as one of them,” Surekha adds.
The idea, she explains, has been to showcase the different faces of the city and help people reconnect with it.
And it’s a people’s place, where they can try their hand at something new without feeling out of place.
“We have a great connection with Gandhi. We had a spinning wheel where one could spin khadi. This space isn’t like a mall -- it’s not intimidating. After they make a pot or a sculpture for the first time, their expression is something you wouldn’t want to miss,” she adds.
From this to the outdoor snake and ladder board, where people become the pieces is a hit among the adult as well as children communities of the city. From this to spinning a yarn, physically using a charakha and metaphorically during the monthly story-telling marathons that have become popular across the city, the boulevard has introduced to the cityscape a bounty of activities.
While during the first year, the space has let people take a peek into several forms of art and culture, it will soon introduce workshops that can enhance the learning experience too.
“That’s what we plan for the year ahead -- workshops and short-term courses on art appreciation, photography, puppet making, to name a few.”
Since its establishment, R-MAC has also tied up with various other organisations -- schools to NGOs and government departments -- to bring to people an array of experiences.
“Since we’re associated with BMRCL, which is a government organisation, I think access is easier for us than to other galleries or spaces. We had an exhibition from the archives of the army, which is responsible for the construction of many bridge and bund that made up Bangalore,” she says.
Another exhibition telling the story of the freedom movement through stamps was a result of a tie-up with the postal department. The philately society too had a counter, where people could apply to have functional stamps made with their displaying their own faces on them.
Easily accessible, this ideally should have been a hotspot for election activity as well.
“Well the Election Commission had an event here a week ago with the BBMP commissioner M Lakshminarayana was here too,” says Surekha.
However, although they received many requests from political parties to hold events and rallies, they’ve been refused. “We had decided earlier: no political or religious events as the public’s ideologies are not uniform and so some people might not connect with them.”
Here’s where the renowned rub shoulders with the common man too.
In fact, S G Vasudev once told City Express that places like Rangoli help artists like him interact with the public.
“Otherwise, people are under the mistaken impression that art is only for the intellectuals, and artists live in ivory towers,” he had said.
“Prasanna was here to talk about weaving; we’ve had Chandrashekhar Kambar and U R Ananthamurthy come down for the book-exchange initiative (people could exchange books with each other) that marked the celebration of Rashtrakavi Kuvempu’s birth anniversary,” says Surekha.
Arthur Hull, the father of community drumming, conducted a workshop for percussion artistes and even led the Community Drumjam in November, a monthly event to which to which Robert Narain and Vasundhara Das are regulars.
“Poet Siddalingaiah, Radhika Pundit and Srinagar Kitty have also come down for various events,” she lists.
“It’s hard to imagine that Bangaloreans managed to live without a public space like this -- one where you could relax with your laptop (there’s free wi-fi now) or be introduced to art and culture,” shares Surekha.
But what they are proud of now did not come without its set of challenges. “When we decided to have art in open spaces, without grills or railings to keep people away from them, there was worry of vandalism. Anyway, we decided to experiment, and I’m surprised to say how well behaved Bangaloreans can be,” she adds.
According to her, it’s all psychology. “When there are a couple of glasses are thrown in a corner, it soon grows into a pile. But I think when it’s well maintained, people don’t feel like disturbing it.”
But as people are a crucial aspect of the space, she claims that the staff constantly has to monitor that they too are well taken care of.
“If there’s a leak or a problem with architecture and someone has a fall or is injured, it becomes our responsibility,” she says, adding that the journey has just begun and there’s a long way to go.
Arthur Hall taught drumming
Novelist U R
Ananthamurthy spoke books
Siddalingaiah read out his poems
Theatre director Prasanna taught weaving
Painter S G Vasudev met new art lovers
Movie stars Radhika Pandit, Srinagara Kitty attended events
What’s on now Exhibition of wildlife photographs at Vismaya, a gallery at Rangoli