An interview with Pune's mural painter: Abha Bhagwat
In the first part of our two-part series on mural painter Abha Bhagwat, we understood her through her various projects in schools, public areas, slums and her comfort with the medium, as well as her philosophy of inviting people to create murals as participants in the artwork. She believes that when people participate, there's a sense of owner of that public space and motivation to keep it clean and well looked after. This question answer session in place of an interview gives us an idea of her various projects, we're sure you'll welcome.
What are your most loved projects?
Among the painting projects I’ve done so far it’s hard to pick one as favorite. But I would like to mention a few for their uniqueness.
Anandwan and Hemalkasa paintings are among the very sensitively done projects. In Anandwan I used the broken outlines of leprosy affected women’s hand impressions, which they thought were very ugly. But we turned those hands into beautiful flowers and trees in painting. It was a very unique experience to bring out the beauty that is hidden even in the most ignored and hidden inferiority.
At Hemalkasa, I painted two children walking on bamboo sticks. A useful skill for people in Lok Biradari when you're trying to get from one place to another during heavy rains, as there is great threat of snakes in the water. To protect themselves from the snake bites children use bamboo sticks to move around.
Velas in Konkan is famous for the Olive Ridley Turtle festival and I had an opportunity to paint /the sea life and the birth of turtles. The wall surface contained a door and a window and we used them metaphorically as part of the painting. Before beginning the project, it was important to study the life of these vulnerable creatures -its looks, the eggs and hatch-lings and reasons to protect these turtles.
Another project I cherish fondly is an up-cycled shipping container converted into a classroom and library, which is installed in a school at Wada, a small village in Palghar District. It was a challenging project due to its corrugated metal walls. Using oil paint for intricate detailing on the theme ‘tribal education’ made it all more difficult. However, the more difficult it is, the merrier I am!
I had a wonderful opportunity to paint the backdrop of a small stage for performing arts, called Rangalaya, which is an extension of a famous Jyotsna Bhole Sabhagruh on Tilak Road in Pune. This painting is an abstract expression of waves which give qualitative appeal to the ambience of the hall. It is a great honor to have my painting as the backdrop, while famous personalities of the Marathi Rangabhoomi are performing.
On Indian River Day 28th November, 2019 my Rangjaa team painted a huge wall near SNDT on Law College Road. This huge wall close to the signal was an eyesore all these years. We painted this beautiful river on the wall by the road. We tried to highlight that this wall has been blocking a flowing canal. I particularly love this painting for its message that serves like an epitaph to the canal that our city buried under the road.
I believe in designing a painting that blends in with the environment and ethos of the place keeping in mind the people who’ll be around that painting most of the time and become a part of that space so that it’s impossible for viewers to imagine the space without that artwork.
The walls have their own characteristics and personalities and so do the paintings. If these elements are not matched precisely, the place never owns the painting. It’s my sole responsibility to make use of the wall’s own texture, visualise the painting for its purpose, the people who would make it their own, the biodiversity in that area and so much more.
One of my most appreciated works is on the wall of Balbharati on Senapati Bapat Road in Pune. Aligning the painting to the institution’s involvement with the creation of syllabi for school textbooks, I painted with the theme of children and animals reading books all along the 70 meter wall. Around 250 people from different classes and ages participated in painting the wall and made it their own.
What are the challenges in your work?
When I do participatory wall painting, every participant connects to the wall personally and feels like the whole painting and the wall and the area belongs to them. This feeling of belonging is very important to connect people to the city in a very positive way. I don’t sign participatory paintings because I do tend to lose control over certain effects that could have been achieved, if I were to work alone. Calling it people’s painting gives me tremendous joy and so I do not like to use my signature on the painting.
I love working with diverse people so interacting with them and handling big crowds is enjoyable. It does get a bit tense, when a crowd is waiting to take on some area they could paint; but the happiness they experience is beyond imagination.
When I work on the streets and in rural areas where there is lack of toilets, shade, clean water, nutritious food to eat, it gets tough to stand for 10 hours and paint. Working in such conditions takes a toll on one’s health, as you can well imagine.My heart goes out to all those who have no other options.
How do you work on your projects? And what are the factors to be considered
The time to complete the painting depends on the following factors:
the size of the surface area of the wall
the content of the painting
whether it is a participatory painting project or a solo
planning for the number of participants including painting material and their costs,
getting the necessary permissions if required etc.
Do you accept projects for people's interiors or private enterprises? What are the considerations to execute them?
Yes, I’m busy with commissioned paintings for home interiors, shops and offices. It is important to understand the clients’ requirements and then create sketches to meet those and still be spontaneous when I actually paint.
I like to be original in every project and have the freedom to make some decisions on the spot. It is very important to develop this mutual understanding before the project is confirmed.
Abha can be reached at email@example.com
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