BENGALURU: The railways have been an integral part of the lives of Indians, and hence also the arts. Now, the Railways Department is using art to help engage workers.
And the Rail Wheel Factory in Yelahanka is more lively, thanks to this. Sculptures made of railway scrap have been installed, and many of the walls and pedestrian area are covered with paintings by the RWF staffers, their children, and NGOs and well-known artists.
The railways is a reflection of Indian society, says the chief mechanical engineer at the factory. In that sense, it is not that different from art.
“The Indian Railways gives you the best glimpse of our lives. Be it the rich or the poor, everyone travels by train,” says S Mani. “The rich use trains because flights do not take them everywhere, and the poor because trains remain the cheapest mode of transport.”
The platforms, where they move to board trains, is a canvas, he says. “Art must imitate this. That was the idea behind providing art to the travelling public,” he adds.
As a part of the experiment, an art gallery, cartoon and heritage galleries were opened for the first time in the Bangalore division of south western railway in 2011 and 2012. It brought railway staff who enjoyed painting together.
A series of art camps were also organised at the stations. The pillar and wall space were used for painting and murals by participating NGOs, and tribal and folk artists.
Mani adds, “The project here started in January. To introduce art into a very heavy engineering environment was wonderful. It was an experiment to see if art can enrich, build team spirit and help staff take pride in their work. I wouldn’t say this is the reason, but the production of the factory has increased.”
And the experiment was a successful one, he says.
The factory has also opened a gallery on the premises, showcasing works of several artists. It also depicts the history of the factory. The staff also started an art club with 10 core members.
F Arockia Wilson, a RWF staffer, says the idea for the club came after Mani saw his work at the factory.
He says, “I did one on the Make in India campaign with chalkpiece. Mani sir saw it and asked who did the work. Then he called me and asked how it could be developed.”
So he and his co-workers began to wonder how they could make the scrap wheels lying around attractive. “Then, several artists from Chitrakala Parishath and others came and it spread,” he recalls.
It helps him de-stress, he says.
“I was interested in art since childhood,” he says. “Art is creation. We do enamel painting in the factory. We have made about five to seven models. There’s a sculpture on Gandhi’s Dandi yatra too.”
As the factory gates, walls and steel plates became large canvasses, the dead oil tanks also came to life.
These works convey messages on life and environment. They also give you a peek into the life of the workers and the manufacturing process.
It illustrates how railway scrap is melted in a furnace at 1,700 degrees, moulded and split to produce wheels. Workers then step in to clean these through a process called sprue washing, and the product is ready.
Sculptures of men in uniform outline the safety measures the manufacturing unit workers should take.
Peter Shanthaveera J, assistant mechanical engineer, adds, “All of this is soothing. The work will get others thinking. They will also develop a pride in their work, and can also imbibe these philosophies. The colour hands at the metallurgy department have made the place look better.”
Nelson, a staffer in the electrical maintenance department, calls the artistic side he and his colleagues discovered as gifts of God. They have had no formal training in art, he reasons.
He says the art club is now working on a new project. It will show the process of making a wheel, one that the RWF compares to birthing a child. “The works will have a 3D effect,” he adds.