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A meeting of minds under the badaam tree
Suresh Jayaram talks to Yamini Vijayan about a space for art, and his concerns on Bangalore.
The doors to Suresh Jayaram’s house are almost never shut. After having converted the terrace he had inherited from his parents into an innovatively designed space for art, Suresh decided to use it for purposes beyond his own. That’s how #1, Shanti Road became an interactive space that encouraged conversations between people, providing an accessible platform for people to break out of their rigid identities, shed their inhibitions and experiment freely with art, without the fear of being judged. Bang in the middle of the city stood this house, wrapped around a 50-year-old Badaam tree, where horns blared and there was hardly a moment of silence. But somehow, people managed to find peace here and so did I.
Having taught art history at Chitra Kala Parishat for 12 years and eventually resigning as principal, Suresh decided to quit teaching to find time to do what he really wanted to do. The result was #1, Shanti Road, where he collaborated with Khoj, an international organisation for artists’ interaction. Suresh’s idea of developing a cultural artistic space such as this was mainly for artists to have an interactive space and also for people to come and experience art, hoping to free art from being seen as something ‘museumised’. But his connection with teaching hasn’t quite snapped, he tells me. “Some of my students are doing some very interesting work and that’s definitely a matter of pride for me,” he says, breaking into a sincere smile.
Having seen Suresh participate actively in initiatives and projects around the city, I asked him if he believes that art can change society. “If art could have changed society, then society would changed with Picasso’s Guernica,” he replied. An artist in the contemporary world must ideally be someone who can communicate on different levels and dimensions, he tells me, citing K G Subramaniam as an example. Although Suresh wasn’t his direct student, his admiration for this artist who made toys for children, wrote books for adults, painted murals and did much more, is clearly evident.
‘Nature in an urban context’ is a recurring theme in many of Suresh’s art-forms and also happens to be a subject that he speaks of, with genuine concern. Referring to himself as a complete Bangalore boy, he shares with me his experiences of taking organised heritage walks in Bangalore along with 75 other people, through the old and new parts of the city, observing how the sacred and the secular go together, how the traditional and modern have learnt to co-exist.
“Bangalore is the quintessential urban city. But it is important for us to realise that all this development didn’t happen in a day and we certainly shouldn’t be erasing the history of Bangalore for its future generations. I mean, what are they going to look at, glass facades? Bangalore is like a child that has quickly become an adult, skipping the entire teenage phase. If you want to transform Bangalore into a Singapore, then may god help you,” says this artist, who hopes for heritage restrictions to be imposed on the city. We must ensure that some of the beautiful buildings in this city are preserved,” he adds, leaving me wondering what ‘beautiful’ meant anymore.
Attributing his major strength to his association with the local artists’ community, he lends his studio space to local artists for shows, free of cost, and also helps them in promoting their art by getting them in touch with galleries and curators.
“I’m hoping that the government would use the metro stations also to foster local art and cultural activity, creating a kind of public interactive space where you could buy craft, have street plays and so on,” Suresh says, “although there would be no streets,” he adds, as an after-thought.
Discussing the recent curbs on dancing and singing in restaurants, he tells me that if this kind of cultural dadagiri persists, his hopes of local arts and crafts being promoted by the government are highly unlikely. “I mean, with this city turning into some sort of a Cinderella Raj, I only hope that the spirit of this city doesn’t burn out,” he echoes. While he dreams of a city that continues to live up to its undying spirit, he does not allow it to dampen the mood at #1, Shanti Road.
Artists continue to create, experiment, perform and interact there, often cooking food together, screening films of independent documentary film makers, playing live music and giving more reasons for artists to stick together, for the love of art.