Street art is bringing this Bengaluru neighbourhood alive | Condé Nast Traveller IndiaMay 27, 2021
A mural in Malleswaram. Photo: Anushya Badrinath/Light Vine Studio
In the north-west of Bengaluru, away from the malls, pubs and traffic, is the quaint, leafy neighbourhood of Malleswaram. An older, planned locality of Bengaluru, Malleswaram is filled with 8-10ft wide lanes that cut across the neighbourhood in horizontal and vertical lines. These lanes, known as conservancy lanes, were planned and built after the plague of the 1800s and were historically used for manual scavenging. When the practise finally stopped in the area, the lanes became a space for parking and even as illegal storage for small vendors, until eventually, they fell into complete disuse. Now, a group of people are reinventing these forgotten roads and painting over its dull past.
Making Malleswaram walkable
“Even the people of Malleswaram did not know that they could cut across their neighbourhood with these conservancy lanes, because they seem so desolate,” says Sobia Rafiq, co-founder of Sensing Local, an urban living lab in Bengaluru that is involved in the project. She is working with a consortium of small local organisations to make Malleswaram pedestrian-friendly, under the project Walkable Malleswaram. The project has been undertaken jointly by Sensing Local, a community neighbourhood organisation called Malleswaram Social, an artist group called Geechagalu and a youth organisation called Young Leaders for Mobility Action (YMAC).
For the past five months, they have been hard at work, beautifying the lanes and filling them with vibrant art. All of the artists are Bengaluru locals, having trained in institutions like Srishti Institute of Art and Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath. They understand what makes up the fabric of the quiet neighbourhood and their art reflects that. The streets of Malleswaram now have artwork dedicated to the sparrows, whose songs are a common sound in the mornings, and the ubiquitous filter coffee served at every restaurant in the area. One piece of art is a glorious portrait of a local waste worker, who is a familiar face in the neighbourhood.
‘I painted a part of this piece…’
“The conservancy lanes are very small service lanes that connect the temples, markets and schools,” Rafiq says. “They also have zero traffic, so we want to reclaim and prioritize them for pedestrian movement,” Rafiq tells me. The neighbourhood is made up largely of older residents, who can really make use of well maintained and safe walking lanes. In the past few months, as the artists visited and spent hours painting the street walls, they formed quiet friendships with the residents, who would bring them cups of coffee or pieces of fresh jackfruit every evening. Sometimes, they would pick up a brush and help paint a section of the wall. “Though people can only see the end result, the process of it has been very interesting as well,” Rafiq says. “The artwork has brought together residents, government officials and artists. It’s been a very interesting ecosystem building exercise.”
The street art is just the first step of many interventions to come in Malleswaram and other similar neighbourhoods in Bengaluru. Rafiq envisions the year-long project as one that reinvents the conservancy lanes by improving their surfaces, installing streetlights and bringing attention to a neighbourhood like Malleswaram as an art district in itself. There are plans to organise walks in the neighbourhood once things are safer and even install QR codes next to every artwork so passersby can access videos of the artists speaking about their process of creation. For now though, the biggest win is in the fact that everyone, from residents to local officials, feels a sense of pride about the project. “It has helped people feel a sense of ownership over the change,” Rafiq says. “Now, as they pass by, they can say ‘I helped with the permissions for this project’ or “I painted a part of this piece.’” It’s a colourful new chapter to the neighbourhood’s history.