September 04, 2010

Art in Chennai's Public Spaces

The Goethe Institut, more commonly known as Max Mueller Bhavan in Chennai is celebrating its golden jubilee.

The big day is to be celebrated late this year but the events have begun to unfold.

German language teachers, retired staff, artists, actors, directors, dancers and curators and all those who have had strong bonds with the Bhavan have been treated to warm parties where nostalgic memories were shared.

One interesting project to mark this jubilee caught my attention. And the man who will put it together is artist B. O. Sailesh who lives and works from Cholamandal.

The Bhavan has been located in the Thousand Lights neighbourhood for about 25 years at three different addresses.

Its current modern premises stands at a key intersection. On one side are the sprawling bungalows of the rich who live behind huge gates, many of which are making way for stores and boutiques for the wealthy of our city. On the other is a neighbourhood where the poor and the middle-class reside.

Sailesh has an art installation in mind - to be ready later this year. And he proposes to create this piece of work from things that people who reside here have no use for.

His team will go door to door, brief the residents of this project and come back to make the collection.

Sailesh is trying to see how this concept ties into the jubilee of the Bhavan that has played a great role in this city. And how the dynamics of the collection and installation relates the MMB to its neighbourhood.

Chennai Corporation lost a great opportunity to encourage a similar process when the City Fathers decided to paint the public walls, especially those on the main roads.

Cultural icons, tourist destinations, natural landscapes and excerpts from the Thamizh epics greet those who choose to slow and stare.

When the project was mooted, it was decided to contract the students of the well known College of Arts in Periamet for this assignment. The contract fell because the civic body could not match the fee the college wanted.

So the jobs were given to the men who once created those gigantic and colourful promos for our films and elections.

Most of them are without much work with the era of the over powering flexi-sheets. Flexi-banners greet guests to a kid’s first birthday. So these contracts will hopefully bring them some money.

However, had Mayor Subramaniam and his team networked with neighbourhood groups and artistes, schools and residents and encouraged them to take over public walls, that art would have been truly of the people.

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