Chain reaction: This art exhibition is an attempt to create awareness on cycling infrastructure
Through the works of six artists, this exhibition attempts to create a conversation around better cycling infrastructure in Gurugram
Published: 08th December 2022 09:10 AM | Last Updated: 08th December 2022 03:45 PM | A+A A-
Clad in a vibrant saree, a domestic worker is seen atop a cycle, riding confidently towards a busy, residential space in Gurugram, as though gearing up for the day ahead. Another migrant worker is walking next to her bicycle, engrossed in conversation on her mobile phone, probably getting daily updates of her hometown from a relative.
These two scenes come alive in ‘Panthali Pedals Through Gurugram’, a series of paintings by Hari Krishnan, who presents vignettes of livelihood cyclists on canvas. However, it is not just their commute that he showcases here; the self-taught artist also gives the viewer a glimpse of the resilience of a domestic worker, and how self-sufficient she feels thanks to this mode of transport.
Krishnan’s—he is the founder of CultureDrum, a creative think tank—work is part of the exhibition Two Wheels Gurugram, which is on display at the Museo Camera, Centre for Photographic Arts, Gurugram. Centred on highlighting the need for improved cycling infrastructure in Gurugram, this exhibition—it started on Wednesday and will continue till December 11—is organised by Sustainable Mobility Network, which is a pan-India network of more than 20 organisations working towards sustainable transport and mobility, along with Raahgiri Foundation—a Gurugram-based charitable trust that is zealously striving after making roads safe and combatting air pollution.
Gearing up for good
Art is not just a means of visual delight, it is also powerful: A captivating painting or an arresting sculpture can nudge the viewer to pause, think, and, as a result, transform their mindset.
Hari corroborates this when he shares an anecdote, “I was painting this [the series] for a year in my studio, and my Bengali domestic worker who is 46 years old said ‘Bhaiya, maine aapko ye karte hue dekha aur mujhe itna accha laga, ki main bhi cycle ab seekh rahi hu' (I saw you work on this and liked your paintings so much that I decided to start learning how to cycle). Art has the power to draw people into things and create a culture as well.”
Through this exhibition, six artists—Seema Singh Dua, Richa Kedia, Aditya Raj, Hari Krishan, Nehmat Mongia, and Sreelakshmi M—across mediums explore the many aspects of cycling: as an urban lifestyle and for livelihood. Krishnan, who is also the curator, shares, “We have been planning this since October, and wanted to create a conversation around safe streets for cyclists and cycling infrastructure. Whether it is a livelihood or lifestyle cyclist, cycling is a cleaner mode of transport, and it makes you fitter. So the idea is to fulfil many purposes by a conversation like this.”
Art for a cause
The recent death of Subhendu Banerjee, a 50-year-old Gurugram-based cyclist, has shed light on the need for cities to implement safe cycling infrastructure. According to data shared by the traffic police in early 2022, 3 per cent of road fatalities in Gurugram were those riding bicycles in 2021.
Giving us insight into why this one-of-a-kind exhibition is the need of the hour, Sarika Panda Bhatt, co-founder and trustee, Raahgiri Foundation, shares, “Subhendu was one of us, which is why there is so much anger and sadness. But, two weeks prior to that incident, two livelihood cyclists were run over in Golf Course Extension Road. That is not much talked about because they don’t have a voice. The idea of this exhibition is to see how we can work towards their rights and safety, because they don’t have any choice except to use cycles as their mode of transport.”
Two Wheels Gurugram also serves a double duty; a number of artists showcase works that portray the joy of cycling, a sustainable means of travel. Bhatt adds, “Another aspect is to promote cycling as sustainable mobility. We are in the most polluted city in the world, but what is the solution? The solution is getting more people into cycling. I think this is the first-time an exhibition is giving importance to cycling and cyclists."
"We also have a panel discussion [Bhatt will be part of the panel along with Darshan Yadav, City Magistrate of Gurugram; Hitesh Vaidya, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs; Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director, Centre for Science and Environment; Harpreet Bagga, Partner & Director, Purpose Climate Lab; Kalpana Viswanath, Co-founder and CEO, Safetipinit], which will be about getting the right infrastructure for cyclists.”
When we walked into the first floor of Museo Camera on Friday, the initial work we noticed was Caregiver, a sculpture by Seema Singh Dua, which showcases how the bond between parent and child is deepened through the activity of cycling. After this, you witness Krishnan’s series of works, post which there’s Sketchbook of a Gurugram Cyclist by Richa Kedia, a wildlife illustrator known for her nature journals.
Kedia shares, “When you are in a car, you can't really observe anything. During COVID, life slowed down and cycling was possible because traffic was less. It was nice that you could just cycle around and whenever you observe something, just stop, sketch, and move on. Now, one can only do this early in the morning because the traffic is almost impossible.”
Right in the centre of the space, a large web created using scrap rubber cycle tubes is seen suspended from the ceiling. This work titled Entangled by Nehmat Mongia is an attempt by the artist to capture what a cyclist feels while they are riding on the road. Mongia shares, “Every time I would ride as a child and even today, I feel scared when I have to cross the road because there are so many big vehicles, and it is literally as though I feel entangled in between them.”
On the wall opposite to the one adorned by Kedia’s paintings is where one will find a series of paintings by Dua. These demonstrate the joy of cycling with a partner or in a group. Another set of works that stresses on the meditative nature of this activity and the fun it entails is Aditya Raj’s Joy on Two Wheels. Diagonal to this is where Mongia’s Save Lungs stands as a striking installation.
The artist, who has crafted this work using waste spare parts of cycles, shares, “The concept of Save Lungs is about how cycling is better for your health and the environment. It is one of the easiest and cheapest ways of commuting and also helps reduce pollution, only to make our lungs more healthy.”
To incorporate film as a medium in the exhibition, there's a documentary screening by Sreelakshmi M titled As The Wheels Turn, showcasing livelihood cyclists and their relationship with this mode of transport. Two Cycling Societies by Anirudh Krishnan is where the photographer/climate change champion looks at the practice of cycling across cultures.
In another collaborative work titled Maintain Distance, a screen showcasing visuals (created by Mongia) of the chaos of a city serves as a backdrop for Dua’s sculpture of a lady on a bicycle. Mongia explains, “The idea was to capture what goes through the mind of a cyclist when they are in the middle of all the traffic. The video installation depicts confusion and clutter.”
The works on display in this exhibition present the stark reality of cyclists in India, and how in contrast this activity remains to that across the world. However, one aspect it puts into focus is the lives of an oft-ignored community—livelihood cyclists—and their safety.
We're reminded of a conversation with Aditya Arya, photographer and founder of Museo Camera, who shares, "We are the cultural hub of Gurugram, and we don’t restrict ourselves to any particular genre. Museo Camera is a space that is selling ideas to people, and it is about being all inclusive and culturally vibrant.. This exhibition is also very relevant because the man who passed away [Subhendu] used to visit this space."
The need for change
When it comes to cycling, despite the comprehensive mobility plans crafted across cities and states, there are a number of glitches that limit the implementation of said plans. Krishnan says that the public also needs to lend a helping hand, “The government is always ready to start policies and there is a bit of implementation as well. But the public also needs to be aware, change their habits, and embrace cycling. It is a cultural thing. cycling, as an activity, is ignored. Till an accident happens; nobody looks at it.” Adding to this, Bhatt stressed on how cyclists and pedestrians are almost invisible to other road users, “People who drive vehicles don't look at cyclists and pedestrians as road users. They don’t respect the latter.”
A crucial part of this sustainable mobility movement is to bring about a culture change. Krishnan concludes, “Cycling can come into our culture only when you talk about it; and you can talk about it through art. This whole exhibition and initiative is aimed to create such conversations and awareness. Also, the mark of success in any society is when you graduate from a cycle to a motorised scooter. People usually think that ‘If I'm driving a cycle, I'm a poor person’ because society has put such labels on people. So how do we bring about a change? It is by getting artists together.”
CHECK IT OUT
WHAT: ‘Two Wheels Gurugram’
WHEN: Till December 11; 11:00am to 7:00pm (Closed on Mondays)
WHERE: Museo Camera Centre for the Photographic Arts, DLF Phase IV, Gurugram