Bengaluru

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Shilo Shiv Suleman’s Mural in K.R. Market

Named after King Krishnarajendra Wodeyar, Bangalore’s K.R. Market (also known as City Market) is one of the city’s oldest. Alongside selling wares of all kinds, it is considered to be one of the biggest flower markets in Asia. As part of St+art Bangalore 2016, K. R. Market became the location for a mural by street artist Shilo Shiv Suleman.

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Today there’s ample feminist scholarship to supprt the claim that all public spaces, including cities, are gendered. All gendered spaces accord their inhabitants with specific responsibilities and entitlements. K.R. Market greeted us with a contrasting image to this notion.

Founder of The Fearless Collective, Suleman is known for her work at the intersection of gender and art based activism. Transfixed by the range of colour present in the Flower Market, she described the area as “an oasis of total beauty, filled with hundreds of flowers, with flowers being woven, measured and sold in the most delicate way by men.” Reading it as a revealing instance of subversion (of normative masculinity), Shilo decided to work with a concept of masculinity that was rooted in softness. To arrive at a composite image, she made the process behind the mural an integrative one.

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Making the market home for 7 days, Shilo spent time interacting with the flower vendors, trying to understand the local narrative. Her discussions with the flower sellers focused on questioning the roles of gentleness and kindness in public spaces. She posed questions such as, “are gender roles interchangeable?”, “does selling flowers everyday make one gentler?” to the men who sat weaving flowers and was intrigued by their responses. After several discussions about gender roles and their effect on society, Suleman also took feedback on her idea.

Following discussions and collective feedback, she composed the image that she would be painting on a wall inside the market, ready to be projected.

The final piece that Shilo created consisted of two men who emerged from flowers, weaving a garland of jasmine between their fingers, as if embodying the softness of the flowers themselves. Roses sprouted from their skin and their beards - they were fearless and gentle.

This exploration of gentleness was however met with conflict on the first day of the painting of the mural. Several local vendors insisted that Shilo drew either a king or a famous actor on the wall. The state of Karnataka is well-known for its celebration of deities and movie stars; the residents weren’t used to a celebration of the common man. Conversations however led to conflict-resolution and the creation of the mural progressed.

The 7 days it took for the mural to be completed served as a time period of introspection for the artist. As a street artist who had been enabled to showcase her work, Shilo felt like she was reclaiming public spaces. As a woman, she felt the need to do what she does to inhabit those spaces safely. However as a person, she felt that all of us needed to reclaim public spaces from fear.

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