ONLINE | MAY 2021

Shanthamani M: Past Continuous

What does it seem, at first glance? Is it images of the old and the new in Bangalore city sometimes merging, at other times colliding? Past Continuous looks at the geography of the city from the early 2000s, through its fissures and junctions. And yet, if we look further, we see layers of connections and questions that we ask using Shanthamani’s personal experiences and our interpretations, questions of what is the past? And, how has the past continued into the present despite disruptions experienced by the city? We examine people within demographics/spaces, machines, streets, mundane objects, murals, deep lakes and tall trees, abandoned. We ask if the artist is showing us how the city has developed over the years. The exhibition looks at the practice of Bangalore-based artist Shanthamani M. and dissects the single image photomontage, through an undoing of her work and simultaneously through an exploration of the city and its history.

Shanthamani M’s work visualises a moment in time, of artists coming together and documenting their surroundings, the people who inhabit neighborhoods, vanishing skill sets, nature, and the metropolis everchanging. In a way, the work also encourages artists and photographers to work locally at a time when travelling is limited and might be for a long time.

We notice how movement, energy, religion, commerce, culture, technology, ecology and production co-exist in Shanthamani’s works. This co-existence sometimes presents a certain tension but also comfort in layered commonalities of familiar places. They appear in the form of pockets of old architecture in Malleshwaram, in the form of statues of Lal Bagh, gardens and lakes, electrical shops across Commercial Street and shrines near Koramangala.

In the end, it is perhaps this co-existence of sorts that describes the idea of the local. Are we able to coexist in a city that grows and constantly shifts, in which the native and the colonial, the old and the new seem to be wrestling with each other?

What most Indian megacities have in common, is that past, present and future often collide and create ruptures. As the past continues, Bangalore often leaps fast forward. Shanthamani M’s photomontages explore the gaps and ruptures created through these leaps.

To go through the exhibition will take you 15 minutes. Every image in this exhibition contains alt text as an accessibility feature.

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Shanthamani M

Past Continuous
Blue transformer mounted on a window. Next to it is pink and yellow geometric wall design and a pale dark space with a hazy lamp or diya inside it.

A story often shared about Bangalore is that it made history in 1905, when it became the first city in Asia to have streetlights. Having had access to electricity earlier than other parts of Asia was perhaps a harbinger of the tech hub Bangalore has become today.

Phone Interview
17-05-2021

People referenced:
Manjunatha, Principal and Professor at an engineering college, Bangalore; Vijaya, electrical engineer, BESCOM (Bangalore Electricity Supply Company Limited); Grandfather, electrical engineer, Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation, retired in 1996.

When did electricity come to Bangalore and how?

Manjunatha - Without electricity..it is totally impossible to do anything..first it (electricity) came to K.G.F (Kolar Gold Fields) from Shivanasamudra..we have voltage, current and frequency, in Bangalore it is 50 cycles per second..in United States it is 65 cycles..during that time (1900s)..everything was designed for 25 cycles per second...we later designed our own machines that converted 25 to 50 cycles.

Phone Interview

Why do so many people study electrical engineering?

Manjunatha - During our time (1979-early 1980s)..only 2 branches were there, mechanical and electrical, me and Vijaya didn’t get a good score and had to settle for electrical..it is only later we had interest, your tatagaru (grandfather)..was skilled..that time (probably 1950s) in electrical, people would directly do the work..labour..ours (Vijaya and mine) is only supervising.

Phone Interview

How did the electricity change? What is the difference between how you work and my grandfather worked with electricity?

Manjunatha - Your grandfather had practical skills, he knew how to work, how to transport, assemble machines for electricity..we now are into innovation and research..we work with different stages of electricity. If you take anything outside Bangalore, scope and exposure is more in Bangalore..we have new technology, new research, water, space and knowledge for electricity is there..so we started growing very fast.

Several orange, purple, pink and red plastic flowers. To the right of it is a man seated on a horse. In the background is a temple under construction and chopped trees.

As narrated in a Helava folk tale, Magadi Kempe Gowda, a labourer in the fields who rose to become the chieftain and founder of Bengaluru, asked a woman in a small village for “a mouthful of rice”. The old woman did not have any rice to share but offered instead a plate of boiled beans. The tale collapses two identities into one, Kempe Gowda of Yelahanka, believed to be the founder of the city, and Kempe Gowda of Magadi, who lived much later.

In another version of this story, it is a king of the Hoysala dynasty, who, hungry after having been out hunting, comes across an old lady offering him a plate of boiled beans and water, bendha kalu, which then became Bengaluru. However, even this story throws up one issue: the name Bengaluru was already around long before the name Hoysala.

Interpretations of the Kannada word Bengaluru include the land of burnt forests, bende -kaadu-uru (shortened to benkaduru), city of guards, bengavala-luru and city of Venkataraman, benkat-uru. All of these terms were associated with Kempe Gowda of Yelhanka's actions in the city.

A bridge in the foreground through which a shrine with a pink lotus and a cross, a pitch white sculpture of a man surrounded by green leaves and logs of wood beside a footpath can be seen. Spools of red shiny yarn repeat at the top and bottom.

In the streets of Bangalore, we hear Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, English, Tullu, Marathi and Hindi. And while Bangalore is not the city of famous archeological sites, ruins, forts and palaces (apart from one), it seems to be a melting pot of religions, festivals, cuisines and communities. In 2008, in the introduction to the book MMultiple CityM, writer Aditi De recalls that some locals joke about how tourists might not get much out of the city except “two rambling gardens and a crumbling palace”.

A tall tower next to a reflection of a red building in a water body separated by a big white plus symbol.
A repetition of tall white buildings, below it is a water body with a reflection of a brick red building and water plants.

At the heart of the city, next to Cubbon Park, lies a network of museums and galleries, the earliest of which dates to the 19th century. Amidst this landscape and in front of the Visvesvaraya Museum stands UB City, amongst the taller skyscrapers in Bangalore, that houses luxury retail stores, apartments and restaurants. A nine-minute walk from UB city towards Kasturba road will take you to the Venkatappa Art Gallery and Government Museum, situated in close proximity to each other. In fact, the red-brick building that is reflected in the moat is the exterior of the Government Museum. The coexistence of such structures show us how the city’s landscape amalgamates historical and cultural institutions with centres of commerce.

Two wooden dolls dressed in colourful clothing and jewelry . Next to it is the top of a south Indian entrance to a temple (gopuram).

Every year, families in Bangalore look forward to dressing, decorating and appreciating dolls (gombe habba or festival of dolls) during the lunar months of the Hindu festival Dussehra. Women narrate mythical and personal stories to children, display their creativity and devotion, and exchange ideas of making with their family and neighbours. Wooden dolls like that of the historic Mysore Wadiyar king and queen were often passed down between generations of women.

Dolls that were depicted in the previous photo montage.

In Society in Miniature, Annapurna Garimella recalls that, as a child, she would design her own dolls for the display by “cutting branches to create trees, sprouting seeds to get grass for miniature park, bending palm leaf strips to make dolls.”

A man (hanuman) floating in the air carrying mangoes and a ball pointed mace, next to it is a modified red air horn with a pixelated background of a bark.

Processions, advertising billboards and vehicles such as trucks contributed to the cosmopolitan nature of most cities in India. The advertisement on the billboard in the background shows us an image of a woman in a flowing black dress by the Deccan Chronicle. While the Deccan Chronicle provided newspapers to the “young minds” of south India, the Hindu god Hanuman became popularised as part of auto rickshaws, street corners and festival processions in Bangalore.

15cups with coffee spread below a big street light in the background of incense sticks.

The streetsides of Chamrajpete are often dotted with incense sticks or agarbattis made from bamboo sticks, commonly used in Indian households and places of worship. Overlaying this is an image of towering flood lights that illuminate various traffic junctions in and around the city. And, at the bottom, silver cups containing filter coffee from MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Room), a staple Bangalore restaurant and one of the oldest in the city.

Two cups containing coffee

Local names are often ingrained in the names of eateries in Bangalore. Lal Bagh fort road was called Mavalli and Parameshwara Maiya who started the little shop in 1924 changed its name to Mavalli Tiffin Room in the 1960s. The special coffee in MTR was served in silver cups, without a spoon so that the spoon wouldn't scratch the silver. Instead they would provide two cups for people to cool the coffee down.

Today, filter coffee can be had any time of the day and in MTR, it is served with staple food like soft idlis and bisi bele bath. The coffee “decoction” is run through a metal filter. People drink it with two cups so that they can hold the very hot coffee by the rim and then transfer it between the cups while the coffee froths.

A mix of various scenes like the back of a woman, pink and blue stitches, lights, and remains of an inverted cut tree

Night lights of Brigade road layered with mandalas, embroidered quilts by Siddhi women, Kawandi and Kaudi quilts for babies and felled trees tell us about the “built heritage” and the “ecological heritage” of the city. Shanthamani’s intervention as a local artist brings us back to the questions of co-existence.

Shanthamani indirectly shows us the impact of development with the image of a woman holding a toy aeroplane, perhaps sold at traffic signals to people who are departing from the city. Again, we ask what makes a city? What does local or being a local mean? What does it mean to belong in a place while departing from another?

Shanthamani M

Shanthamani M lives and works in Bengaluru, India. She completed her graduation and post-graduation in Fine Arts from Mysore and MS University before commencing on her career as an artist. She has exhibited her works, both solo and in group, in Bangalore, Bombay, London, Miami, New Delhi, Singapore and other cities.

Statement by the artist

These video clips are of many traditional skills in and around Bangalore that were documented between 2006 and 2008. The documentation was a spontaneous idea as we went from place to place, and the camera became a tool for our reference and understanding. These moving images depict the reality of people and their skills, life that crawls on as the fast lane of urban development builds a software hub at unimaginable speeds.

Resources

The books Multiple Cities, edited by Aditi De, Discovering Bengaluru by Meera Iyer and Society in Miniature: Dasara Doll Displays by Annapurna Garimella have been great resources for this exhibition. Most terms in Kannada are taken from Discovering Bengaluru for consistency.

Bengaluru/Bangalore

We have used the name of the city, Bangalore instead of Bengaluru as the montages by Shanthamani were originally documented when the city was called Bangalore. The exhibition doesn't intend to define what constitutes Bangalore but instead asks questions about what it means to be a local with Shanthamani's montages. Many people who have worked on this exhibition have different degrees of connections to this city.

Credits

We are grateful to the artist Shanthamani M for allowing us to show her work in this exhibition. This exhibition was curated by the MAP Team (Arnika Ahldag, Vaishnavi Kambadur, Riya Kumar, Tanveer Qureshi)

Photomontages editor: Raja
Inclusion Manager: Kunal Mehta, MAP
Graphic Design: Siva Kumar and Rajat Kumar
Digital Exhibition Development: Kavita Jhunjhunwala, MAP and Sukanta Dutta, Suresh Das, Mass Software Solutions India
Communications: Priscilla Roxburgh, Krittika Kumari, Mallika Dabke, Shreya Saxena, MAP
Programming: Shilpa Vijayakrishnan and Shruti Rao, MAP

Site Visit: Archana Hande, Suresh Jayaram, Lalitha Shankar and Shanthamani M
Dommasandra site visit coordination: Suresh Kumar
Camera: Archana Hande and Shanthamani M
Video Editing: Raja and Shanthamani M

We also thank everybody who has been contributing with their narratives about the city of Bangalore - Prof. Dr. A. Manjunatha, Kunal Mehta and Shruti Rao.