Azim Premji University was set up in 2010 and since then our Bangalore campus has been a boundless horizon of excitement, imparting vibrance and opportunities in the lives of our students.
Masterminded by Christopher Bennigner, the campus has been an architectural project deliberately consisting of sustainable structures, encouraging an airy and fresh mélange of indoors and outdoors.
Central to the campus topography are the two Seminar Halls that not only provide framework and direction to the university layout but also primarily act as buzzing bee hives for student culture and student clubs. All sorts of activities ranging from guest lectures to open mics to theatricals are hosted in these two halls. They stand as symbolic landmarks that spring to mind when students envision Azim Premji University as a location; as their second home. These Seminar halls serve as a setting where initial memories and subsequent ones are forged, destined to be cherished in the times ahead.
When students returned from their summer break in 2023, they were in for a colorfully stunning surprise. The second seminar hall, called Ashoka, had been painted with life and zest and its colors spoke volumes. Each individual mural, effortlessly connected to the others, maintains its own unique identity while harmoniously contributing to the wall’s overarching narrative.
The ideal way of walking about the second hall’s artwork is from the left to the right. The artworks encompass a range of subjects: animals mirroring themselves, their tails and bodies interconnected puzzlingly into one another, exhibits of facelessness, migration for survival, urban landscapes interwoven with subtle abstract elements, gatherings of tribal women, even a three-dimensional remote control seemingly broadcasting the entire scene and many such elements that can be seen in not just this one perspective but through several artistic angles. All these patterns and connections stem from a variety of traditional art forms, which have been blended with contemporary styles and ideas yet have great historic relevance.
Thirty four artists, across the country, had gathered for the project. Different artists put together their skills and styles to reach a higher artistic nuance, to create something exquisite, while keeping their originality intact. The initiative was under the Arts and Culture Committee of the University and reflects their support towards these dying art forms, thus fostering regionality, sustainability, diversity and liberal contemporary thought.
The primal and bold concepts of Gond artistry, which hail from Madhya Pradesh, and the delicate and organic Warli tradition from Maharashtra shine mesmerizingly on the walls. This ancient art of Gond adds intricacy through fine lines and puzzling dot structures. Warli art is celebrated for its simplicity and depiction of rural life, infusing the wall with an authentic essence. Madhubani paintings from Bihar on the wall are very women-centric and inspire women empowerment. Artists’ work with the Cheriyal scroll art from Telangana illuminates the artwork with depictions of natural elements, collages, and insights into religious and cultural rituals.
What adds more depth and intrigue to these art forms is the contemporary art that is infused with traditional art and the refined novelty and uniqueness that the amalgamated end product delivers. Without the collaborative effort of these several artists, this project wouldn’t have been the same.
The walls are full of narratives spanning from rural dances to caste dynamics, from cottage industries to women’s leadership in the Gram Panchayat. It also touches upon important humanitarian themes and movements like Chipko women.
Each art form contributes its unique regional flavor, creating a harmonious convergence of India’s diverse cultural heritage on these walls. Both the walls largely and abstractly speak of values that the constitution and the preamble preaches. Ideas like fraternity, human rights and equality are beautifully coded and carved in the murals.
This project of painting the second seminar hall, Ashoka, commenced on the seventh of August after months of meticulous planning and imaginative brainstorming, reaching its splendid culmination on the twenty-seventh of the same month. In less than a month, artists invested their creative energies intensively to create a spectacle of remarkable transcendence.
The first seminar hall which had already been painted during the initial phases of the university construction lies in the central part of the university which has recently been named Gurudutt and Ray. A part of it was painted by the members of the transgender community affiliated with the Aravani Art Project.
The mural part that they painted was of a market being a‘common place’. Their idea was to convey the thought that a market is a place of equality and trade is the focus, not the identity of the person, hence a place free of discrimination.
The larger theme revolves around a nuanced interpretation of the constitution and its values, emphasizing principles relevant to the everyday life of an ordinary person.
Concepts of labor struggles, stories of an average citizen and the rights of minorities are impressively depicted on the wall.
This artwork creates a relatable and picturesque backdrop for students who study these very concepts in their academic journey. Passing by these walls, radiating equality, diversity, and democracy, on the way to class is a unique experience.
What makes these murals truly special is their ability to be collectively perceived subjectively, avoiding the imposition of any fixed interpretation. Personal preferences become less significant, allowing individual imaginations to roam freely and weave narratives that resonate most with their sensibilities.
Azim Premji University now stands as an even more diverse and enriched realm, thanks to this infusion of artistry.