The Bus Art of Tamil Nadu

Vijay S Jodha travelled across Tamil Nadu to capture a spectrum of graphics and art forms on inter-state buses. He talks about the unusual and a ‘minor’ art form

Bus Art
Bus Art

Amit Sengupta

This is not the angry Hanuman you see on the back of vehicles. This is the Hanuman of our childhood imagination, flying out from the pages of Amar Chitra Katha and Chandamama. He is flying over an expanse of beautiful, blue mountains, holding the hill in his hand, in perfect poise, balanced with the flowing wind, up in the sky, a man and a bird at the same time.

An old woman in hawai chappals: a traveller in the bus. Red lips of a woman wearing lipstick, painted across the bus. The colours of Holi, or, simply, colours splashed on a young girl’s outstretched hands – her fingers embracing her dreams, celebrating colours unlimited. Crossing across is a young man in jeans, and why is he so sad and lost?

Vijay S. Jodha travelled across Tamil Nadu to capture a spectrum of graphics and art forms on inter-state buses. He talks about the unusual and a ‘minor’ art form.

What inspired you to document graffiti and art on the buses of Tamil Nadu?

I have been travelling to Tamil Nadu for various projects. I have interviewed stalwarts like the father of Green revolution Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, classical singer D.K. Pattamal and actor Gemini Ganesan; I also made a film on the empowering effect of marginalised women learning to ride the bicycle. My on-going project about farmer suicides took me to various villages in Tamil Nadu’s Kaveri delta. Tamil Nadu has such a visually strong popular culture that it is impossible to miss it. I just slowly arrived at this present project and treatment.

How is this public art different?

In India we have a Berlin wall between various art genres in terms of respectability. The ones that appear in galleries get most of the art critics’ attention and the other forms of popular culture stuff that is called kitsch, and is written about more by sociologists rather than art critics.

Bus art obviously falls in this second category and being machine produced, makes it even less worthy to art critics. But it is very vibrant and energetic. It is also the art that travels to the audience rather than waiting for the audience to come to the art gallery or museum show.

What are the signs and symbols which attracted you?

I think the interplay between various themes is what made them attractive to me. The idea of a classical dancer sharing space with a heritage building and a camel from the Thar region up north seemed one such instance.

Was it restricted to Chennai?

No. In case of shooting buses, I covered the inter-state bus stands at Chennai, Nagapattinam, Dindigul, Thanjavur, Tiruchirappalli and Puducherry.

In a state famous for huge cinema and political hoardings and cutouts, how is this art form different?

This art form deploys machine printed art that has become the mainstay of all outdoor advertising today including for films and political rallies. But, proliferation of affordable printing machines has killed the livelihood of the hand painted hoarding maker.

This art form is thriving despite machines. The other point is that these bus artists have consciously avoided politics and cinema that has been the staple for the hoarding and giant cut out makers.

What is the aesthetic content and content of this art form?

I was driven by a desire to bring a bit of attention to this minor art form. I was also keen to capture the interplay between this art and the audience i.e. the conductor, driver and the travellers and driver.

Is this a popular genre in the state?

Bus owners would not be spending their money on this if it were not the case.

(An exhibition by Vijay S. Jodha on the bus art of TN was held at IIC from November 1-14)

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