Bengaluru: Soon after the “moonwalk" video hit television news screens on Monday, its creator, 39-year old Badal Nanjundaswamy switched off his phone.
Since the video, in which an actor is dressed as an astronaut and is walking on Bengaluru’s crater-laden roads (meant to simulate the surface of the moon) to highlight civic apathy went viral on social media and news channels, Nanjundaswamy has remained indoors. He has been unwell and not fully aware of the impact his street art has created, highlighting the southern city's crumbling infrastructure - one of the biggest peeves of activists and urban experts.
The “moonwalk" video, inspired by the Chandrayaan-2, has brought the focus back on Nanjundaswamy’s creativity. But if only likes and sharing content on social media solved Bengaluru’s problems.
Bangalore Mirror first reported the story.
“I am scared of recognition," Nanjundaswamy said shyly. A shelf in his home, in the city's Sultan Palya area, is filled with plaques recognizing his contribution to the field of art while the walls of his modest home is filled with graffiti, scribbled by his child. One plaque calls him the “Pride of Mysuru", his hometown and where he first explored street art. It was in 2002-03 that he converted a pothole into a swimming pool near the famous Mysore Palace to get the civic authority’s attention just before the annual Dasara festivities began. And it did. The same day the authorities filled up the pothole.
Since then, he has created nearly 50 different art works to get the attention of authorities that include a plastic crocodile, a mermaid, a picture of Lord Yama or the god of death according to Hindu mythology painted around an open man-hole among others that has sought to highlight the problems faced by the ordinary citizen with an issue that trends.
Few other ‘creations’ of his border on the bizarre.
He once painted black stripes on a stray white horse and presented it as a Zebra as a class project in college that had no obvious message to relay. Nanjundaswamy is a passive version of protest artists around the world who consciously put their lives at risk by taking on the powers of the land over far more sensitive issues like racism, democracy, gun culture, human rights and feminism and other topics.
“Its meant to be funny... sarcastic and not to hurt anyone," he says. The focus on potholes--though an omnipresent one--is one of the low hanging fruits to pick on in a city like Bengaluru that has inadequate infrastructure that continues to crumble despite its fancy titles like “dynamic city" and “technology capital" among others.
“I know only art but am not good with other forms of communication. I can say all this only with art," he says. The roads around his own home in Sultan Palya in Bengaluru is almost unmotorable, filled with chocolate brown rainwater and slippery slush, indicating the limited impact of social media activism in a city like Bengaluru where everyone from the chief minister to mayor to corporation commissioner among others are active online.
“Its is a novel way of catching the authorities attention," B.H.Anil Kumar, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP, the city’s civic body) said. He also used the terms ‘unique’, ‘nice’ among other adjectives to appreciate the art work and even acknowledging the ‘pitiable’ conditions of roads--or the lack of it--in Bengaluru.
“I don’t do it because others tell me. I should feel the prick of the problem," Nanjundaswamy says. As art in this form has its limitations, Nanjundaswamy has taken these issues to the big screen as well. Around five years ago, Nanjundaswamy was travelling on a two wheeler on the Richmond Road flyover when a bus hit the divider, made out of stones assembled in a line, and one of them almost seriously hurting the artist. A quick turn of events and Nanjundaswamy became the production designer for “U-turn", a popular and hit Kannada film in 2016 that was scripted around those loosely assembled stones. The artist has also been part of another Kannada cult film, Lucia--one of the first successful ventures executed through a crowdfunding model.
But most of Nanjundaswamy’s works are for a larger social good, even though he despises the term “social service". He says that its like art practice for a small price from his own pocket that ranges from ₹500 to ₹8000 for lunar surface video.