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.

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 colours 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 a participative one.

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 every day make one gentler?” to the men who sat weaving flowers and were 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 would be painted on a wall inside the market. 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.

Shilo KR Market 1
Shilo in the process of making the mural.
Shilo KR Market
On-lookers observing Shilo and others hard at work atop scaffoldings, in the middle of the chaotic market.
Shilo KR Market final
A completed image of Shilo’s mural at KR market