Blending Art with Satire to Steer Social Change

Published: January 2020

Without resorting to sloganeering, hooliganism, vandalism or acerbic speech narratives, a whacky street artist quietly makes very effective, hard-hitting statements through his artistic expressions right in the middle of the streets.

And How?
A large pothole painted as a demon face; an art installation — a crocodile in a pothole; an actress dressed as a mermaid posing next to a large slush-filled pothole; an astronaut walking on a pothole filled road resembling the cratered surface of a moon… Bangalore commuters have been treated to many of these out-of-the-box art installations, which have also taken the social media by storm.

Art, since time immemorial has been a powerful medium through which, covertly or overtly, artists have critiqued established norms and structures. Bengaluru-based artist Badal Nanjundaswamy has found innovative ways to showcase his creative expression as a medium to critique the apathy of the state towards civic problems of the city of Bengaluru and other cities of south Karnataka, especially the poor condition of roads.

An alumnus of Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts (CAVA), Mysuru, where he aced his course with a gold medal, Badal is acclaimed all over the world for his street art and 3D paintings.

In fact, just a few days ago, his ‘Moonwalk’ video had created a huge sensation on social media. The video features an actor in an astronaut’s dress walking on Bengaluru’s crater-like road – read pothole filled road – highlighting the apathy of the civic officials to basic infrastructure. The video had created so much sensation overnight, that all eyes dramatically shifted from the actual Chandrayaan Mission of ISRO to ‘Moon landing in Bengaluru’. Badal had spent around Rs 800-1,000 from his own pocket to recreate the moon walking that resulted in a national embarrassment to the civic authorities of the IT city.

Badal has been doing such ‘social service’ (that’s how he likes to call it) for over a decade. His first major break came when he converted a pothole into a swimming pool with the caption ‘Come and Swim’ near Mysuru Palace, just days before the world famous Mysuru Dussehra celebrations, in 2003. Civic authorities filled the pothole within 24 hours. “I don’t think this kind of immediate response can be achieved by approaching the issue the regular way. That’s why art and sarcasm have to be blended. It is the best way to catch the attention of the authorities concerned,” the Mysuru-based artist believes.

In 2014, he drew the face of Yama (God of death) waiting to gobble up unwary pedestrians and motorists around a huge open manhole in RT Nagar in Bengaluru. Before that, in Mysuru, he had drawn a simple cobweb, with nothing but a chalk piece, around a manhole to alert the public.

Internationally, he is known as the ‘Crocodile artist’ – the sobriquet he earned after he planted a life-sized crocodile in the middle of a road in Sultanpalya in Bengaluru in 2015 to draw the attention of authorities towards leaking sewage water.

On a pothole-filled road at the Kamaraj-Cubbon Road junction, Badal painted a section of the road in blue colour with actress Sonu Gowda posing as a mermaid. This too had resulted in a huge embarrassment to the BBMP. At another junction in Bengaluru, he had created a cartoon akin to BBMP commissioner and his deputy, laughing their hearts out around a pothole, evoking a huge uproar.

Apart from manholes and potholes, unfinished road dividers have experienced Badal’s wrath too. His artwork ‘Failed Work’ near Mysuru Palace – where he had strewn a few fiber hands on the unfinished road dividers, had earned appreciation. In fact, Kannada movie U-Turn was based on his street art on Double Road flyover near Shantinagar.

The city, its walls, roads, pillars are themselves a befitting canvas for Badal. He transforms them into a passionate plea for change and betterment.

The city, once known for serenity and greenery is on the brink of collapse. Home to over 1.2 crore, the city has absorbed every culture and language indiscriminately.

The fact that most of these issues have been addressed by the concerned civic authorities within a span of 24 to 48 hours speaks for the effectiveness of his strategy. Badal has been able to successfully spearhead a mammoth social awareness campaign through such art works. Badal is one of the strongest voices who has spearheaded a dramatic change in the way civic problems are addressed, especially in south Karnataka.