October 22, 2014

Mythopolis – Exploring the stories of mythological India

By Anusha Narayanan

Most of us belong to nuclear families, where grandparents didn’t put us to sleep at night, while reciting stories of Krishna and his many antics or the story of Ganesh and Karthika. We hear of it during conversations or more often than not, it is the television that educates us about them, besides extensive Google and Wikipedia-generated content. Yes –  having people like Devdutt Pattanaik is a sign of hope – but how many of us know him? We sometimes just have our own versions of our mythology; “I think…” is how most of our sentences begin if someone asks about them today. However, artists have always had strong connections with the traditions, religions, myths and beliefs of different cultures, diving into these real and make-belief stories to find expression.

One such visual artist from Pune is Harshvardhan Kadam whose street art project – Mythopolis – revolves around Indian mythology and its contemporary interpretation. Harsh, like all of us, grew up within the complex and rich Indian tradition of folklore and mythology, and began his search for symbolism when he worked on a comic book on Budhha as an artist. “As an artist working on [the comic version of] a story written by Deepak Chopra, my journey [sought deeper] into Vedic concepts, that looked beyond the framework of Hinduism and questioned its very existence. Everyday, I came across hints and answers as I [began looking] at these more open-mindedly. These ideas were born on the premise of keeping peace and order intact in mankind, where truths, morals and ethics were placed above any sentimental attachment or bias.” said Kadam, when we asked how he began.

Harvardhan Kadam - Mythopolis - Orange Face AndroidOrange Face Android @ Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Harshvardhan kadam - Mythopolis - guardian spirit smallGuardian Spirit Small

Soon, in his search for spirituality, he travelled to Benaras (Varanasi) in 2012, one of the most culturally and religiously potent places for a vast majority in this country. It’s here where the boundaries between myth and truth begin to fade. It is here, looking at some of the art on the walls, that Mythopolis struck Kadam, “of going all out in public and telling rich mythological stories in a public domain – installations and paintings – interacting with people and keeping the stories alive for a good time.”

The following year he travelled across the country to various cities depicting the images of mythological characters on the large canvases, facing the challenges and setbacks of quite literally working on public property. He travels for half the year, from place to place, talks to people, immerses in the culture of the city and then eventually creates art there. So far, he has painted on the streets of “Benares, Udaipur, Pune, Lonavla, Delhi, Mumbai and Orissa [and] in the pipelines are Goa, Hampi and Pondicherry.”

Harshvardhan Kadam - Mythopolis - LoversLovers @ Pune

Harshvardhan Kadam - Mythopolis - Shiva and ShaktiShiva and Shakti @ Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Sometimes people confront him, not knowing who he is, thinking he is some suspicious lurker who has been hanging around a place trying to create mischief. Sometimes, they stop and talk to him while he is working, asking him about the story he is depicting, telling him their version of it in exchange for his. He recounts how, once in Udaipur, he was painting on the walls of a street when he noticed two men staring at him attentively from the corner of his eye. He talked to them and found out that these two were miniature painters/artists – a rare breed these days – and so they ended up painting on the same wall alongside him. “Nothing beats that!” he exclaims.

The scale is daunting: Filling an 8-feet tall canvas can be a challenge without patience and a talent to visualize the final outcome without creating it. Sketches are no substitute for the proportions that are in play.

Permissions to draw on the walls are usually taken in advance by Kadam from the city authorities. “I don’t promote vandalism” he says, but in case he does encounter problems, he tends to work through the night. Kadam also says that good art almost never ceases to generate some love from the people, “they just like it over advertisements and political propaganda” he laughs.

Harshvardhan Kadam - Mythopolis - Mohini EarthscapeMohini – 100’x70 Earthscape @ Odisha 

Harshvardhan Kadam - Mythopolis - SuryaSurya @ Delhi

Mythopolis is an effort to keep the tradition of stories alive in India. Murals have existed since prehistoric times and are a part of some of the most ancient cultures around the globe. Before man learnt to write in scripts, he learnt to draw. Street art is a record of modern chaos, a snapshot of the time we live in – and there is always a need to preserve everything. However, it is a more impermanent statement than installations or architecture. It allows you to paint over it if you don’t like it. “In the end only the stories remain,” says Kadam.

Harshvardhan Kadam will be participating at the St.Art Mumbai Festival, a sequel to St.Art Delhi – a collaboration with various international and national street artists – which will be held at various locations throughout Mumbai between 3rd November and 6th December 2014. He will also be speaking at Inktalk 2014. To know more about him, or see his work click here.

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