New Delhi: The now-viral video of a space suit-clad man ‘walking on’the moon’ (actually a road in Bengaluru) is not the first time Baadal Nanjundaswamy has used a trending topic to create art. On Independence Day, the 40-year-old street artist painted the road dividers in the tricolour, while on Valentine’s Day, he left a big red heart in the city for the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the civic body in charge of the city.
In June 2017, when Rajasthan High Court Judge Mahesh Chandra Sharma claimed that peahens get pregnant by “swallowing the tears of the peacock” and that no actual sex takes place — Nanjundaswamy immediately got to work. Weeks later, a crying peacock could be found creating a puddle of tears on New Bus Stand Road, Hassan, in Karnataka.
The Mysore native, who studied art at the Chamarajendra Government College of Visual Arts (CAVA), began his foray into street art when he painted a “lake” across the illustrious Mysore Palace. After moving to Bengaluru in 2004, he had a stint with the advertising company Ogilvy & Mather (O&M), and was an art director for the Kannada film U-Turn. But his soul, he says, is fed by working as a painter and freelance artist. Nanjundaswamy’s work ranges from painting, creating large-scale murals to making public installations, but has now been dubbed the “pothole artist”. His work won him the Rotary Club ‘Exemplars’ award in 2017 for “Pride in Workmanship”.
Art for action’s sake
Among his most famous and successful projects is the life-sized crocodile at Sulthanpalya Main Road in North Bengaluru, and roping in actress Sonu Gowda to play a mermaid chilling by a massive puddle at the busy Kamaraj Road — both of which led to prompt action by the BBMP in initiating repair.
Apart from creating hyper-realistic art that intrigue passersby, invariably turning city spots into selfie corners, he is an effective provocateur. As part of his series on manholes, his painting of a cobweb (2014) over an open manhole on the Kanaknagar main road was enough for swift action by civic authorities to cover it up for good.
Moonwalk for road repair
Nanjundaswamy didn’t expect his video of theatre actor Poornachandra Mysore dressed in a silver space suit walking down Tunganagar Main Road, in Bengaluru’s Herohalli, to be shared over 7,000 times on Twitter. By Monday afternoon, the video had made it to national TV screens, feeding into the anticipatory euphoria surrounding the Chandrayaan 2 landing scheduled for 7 September.
— baadal nanjundaswamy (@baadalvirus) September 2, 2019
“I just wanted to alert the BBMP to the terrible conditions of the roads in the area, but the response was completely unexpected,” he tells ThePrint over the phone.
Even Congress leader Milind Deora chimed in to support the artist’s work and tweeted that the astronaut was “most welcome” to visit Mumbai.
What a “lunar” way to protest 👌🏼
The astronaut’s most welcome to visit us in Mumbai 🌒pic.twitter.com/96wM08afOF
— Milind Deora मिलिंद देवरा (@milinddeora) September 2, 2019
Given his experience in advertising, Nanjundaswamy understands the importance of being topical and timely, “using what’s trending and relevant at the time to address certain issues,” he says. “Chandrayaan is everywhere and using that concept, I thought, why not do the moonwalk here on a Bangalore road. There are enough potholes and cracks for it to resemble craters.”
For Poornachandra Mysore — the man inside the suit — recently witnessing the accident of a woman on that very road due to the potholes was enough to get him on board for the performance. He told the Bangalore Mirror that the young woman suffered serious injuries, and that “The condition of the road is really bad and needs to be fixed immediately.”
Nanjundaswamy’s street art may borrow from trends to grab eyeballs, but its humour actually gets the point across to many. With the potholes, open manholes and sewage leakages of Bengaluru’s roads as his artistic muse, he says, his interventions have had an impressive success rate of forcing the BBMP authorities to action.
Chitaya, an engineer at the BBMP, tells ThePrint that re-construction work has already begun on the road in Herohalli. Nanjundaswamy followed up on his project to tweet a video of the BBMP’s work.
Thank you people for such a overwhelming response and support! ♥️♥️♥️🙏🙏
— baadal nanjundaswamy (@baadalvirus) September 3, 2019
Using humour, Nanjundaswamy is trying to scratch the surface of a major issue. With more than 300 km of the city’s roads in desperate need of repair, the “killer potholes” of the metropolitan have become a huge concern for many. In April, it was reported that a cyclist collided with a moving car in a bid to avoid several potholes and subsequently died. Even though a detailed action plan was put forth by the BBMP last year, the civic body is plagued by a lack of funds.
In 2017, city-based studio Falana Films weighed in on some of the road-related issues plaguing the city with a short film, Dangerous Davements, which portrayed “what walking in urban India feels like”. By transposing the 90s video game character Dangerous Dave onto the sidewalks of present-day Bengaluru, the film shows how the pedestrian’s everyday commute is actually a frantic bid to dodge the huge cracks and crevices that are a permanent fixture on most pavements.
Amid the burgeoning street art movement in all the metropolitan cities in India, which often draws critique of being mere beautification drives that lead to gentrification, Nanjundaswamy’s work stands out as it pays respect to the political legacy of street art and builds advocacy around a singular yet concrete issue.