Chandigarh

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Bonjour Chandigarh

In February 2018, the St+art Festival went to Chandigarh for its maiden project in the city. Visual artist and designer Hanif Kureshi and French artists Lek and Sowat took to the Sector 17 bus stand in the city to collaborate on its first large-scale public intervention. The project was undertaken as part of Bonjour India 2017-2018 - a partnership between India and France that covered 33 cities across 20 states and union territories, and sought to enable cities to tell their own stories.

The city of Chandigarh became an ideal ground to take the project further courtesy its French legacy. Designed by Swiss-born, French artist Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier, the city is hailed internationally for its planned architecture. Being mindful of the fact that the city’s architecture is considered heritage, the artists decided to paint on the floor of the sector 17 Bus Stand to create an impactful piece.

Consisting of three parts, the artwork - a mural, entailed the painting of the word “bonjour” (French for ‘greetings’) on the floor of the bus stand, augmented through the addition of abstract and definite strokes. While ‘bonjour’ was painted using typography, in a font created by Kureshi, the mural was lifted by the addition of abstract freehand scribbles by Sowat and defined strokes by Lek.

In a celebration of the city’s French lineage and marvelous architecture, the artists utilised the grids and patterns on the bus stand’s floor - each letter of ‘bonjour’ was painted in a separate grid. Additionally, the artists fashioned their strokes in a way to suitably engage with the city’s architecture.

Since Chandigarh is about grids and patterns, we utilised the concrete slabs on the ground as part of the work, putting each letter into a grid. After all, the idea of graffiti or street art is to also use or respect what already exists while of course painting your own thought on it.

- Sowat, artist

The mural was conceptualised with the objective of reviving the waning practice of sign painting in India. “Bonjour” aimed to be evocative of the tradition of rangoli-making - a technique that’s practised in numerous parts of the country. Situated in a central part of the city, the piece was created as an attempt to make a ground level artwork that the city’s residents could engage with.

Originally conceptualised to be painted as “Bonjour Chandigarh”, with ‘Chandigarh’ written in the Gurmukhi script, the progress of the artwork hit a roadblock when permissions to paint ‘Chandigarh’ didn’t come in time. We were told by the UT administration that the decision on which script should be used to write the city’s name on the floor was still pending. Since the duo had to return to France shortly afterwards, we found a workaround.

Lek & Sowat traced the word on the floor in Devanagri and the mural was completed with the help of a human chain. Referring to this unexpected glitch in the completion of the project, Sowat said, “on the bright side, it was amazing to have people participate in the human chain. Something like this won’t be easy in, say, Paris. It truly turned the art towards the people – our true aim!”

In addition to the mural, Lek and Sowat also created a temporary installation using the architecture of the station that sought to “embrace Le Corbusier”. Using Corbusier’s preference of primary colours, the duo joined the pillars of the station using red and yellow plastic bands. In addition to being a literal embrace to Le Corbusier, the idea of the installation was to provide the station regulars with a different navigation route to experience the space more fully.

So, our aim here was to turn our art towards the people, make it democratic and accessible by embedding it in the city.

- Hanif Kureshi, artist

A temporary reimagination of a key area of the city helped us provide its residents with an opportunity to reconnect with its public spaces.

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