The city as a canvas

The city as a canvas

Chennai’s civic authorities have banned posters,graffiti and hoardings on two main arterial roads. The walls of public buildings will now be adorned with paintings by local artists.....

Working in anonymity in Madurai,Karthikeyan drew images of matinee idols,demi-gods and the real ones on the walls and countless hoardings for over the past 30 years. Now working on the sidewalks of arterial Anna Salai in Chennai,Karthikeyan’s paintings are set to be part of the city’s landmarks.

In its effort to beautify the city,the Corporation of Chennai has recently banned posters,graffiti and hoardings on the two arterial roads,Anna Salai and Kamarajar Salai. As a second step,the civic body has decided to adorn the walls of public buildings with paintings related to local arts and culture,drawn by artists from around the state including those like Karthikeyan.

“This is a chance for artists like me to do a work about which I can be proud of — something that thousands will see and appreciate everyday,” says Karthikeyan,as he puts finishing touches to a rural railway station on the walls of a government building at Nandanam.

The plan to utilise the public space rather than leaving it to advertisers was not under consideration in the beginning. It was a step necessitated by circumstances. “When we decided to take up city beautification earnestly,the first step was to ban posters and graffiti on arterial roads from July 15. But once they were removed,the walls looked dirty. After cleaning them,they looked empty and soulless. Also,if the space remained blank,there were chances of the walls being desecrated again. That’s how the idea to paint it came about,” says Mayor M Subramanian.


A team,led by Tamil Nadu Painters Association president J P Krishna,was asked to do the project. Though the decision was to draw pictures connected to Tamil heritage,it was later decided that arts and culture and geographic peculiarities of various regions of Tamil Nadu would find place on the walls. “To break the monotony,there will also be few other paintings,” said Corporation Commissioner Rajesh Lakhoni.

Paintings depicting stone sculptures of Mamallapuram,temples of Madurai,the famous statue of Thiruvalluvar,murals,Raja Ravi Varma paintings,dance forms of Tamil Nadu,tea estates,sea shores and paddy fields are now getting ready in over 50,000 sq ft space inside the city — a remarkable improvement from the time when the space was used to sell sleazy movies and psoriasis drugs,among other things.

“The designs are chosen by officials,mostly images that are associated with Tamil Nadu. But we do minor improvisations,” says Dharan,another artist who is among the team of painters entrusted with the job.

Constantly looking at a picture of a stone sculpture in his hand,Dharan is completing an over 10-foot-long work,looking happy about the outcome. “This will be refreshing for Chennai,something that the city has not seen yet. It is also a matter of pride,” he says.

What he does not spell out is the condition of these artists in the face of technological advancements like digital banners and large format printing on synthetic hoarding. After being much in demand for their skills for years,there is hardly any work coming to them these days. The business has simply dried up in the last few years.

“This opportunity is a lifeline for us. It gives us a chance to showcase our skills and craft as well as provides us work at a time when it is difficult to get any. We hope the authorities will extend this proposal to other areas too,” Dharan adds.

Mayor Subramanian says the civic body is planning to ban posters and wall writings on flyovers and subways in Chennai from September,aiming to clean up more such public space — a space that could be converted into a large canvas spreading over thousands of square feet.