Vijay Jodha captures Tamil Nadu’s moving art galleries on camera


Impressed by the art and the dancer's classical pose, a bus passenger pauses to admire it (All pictures courtesy Vijay Jodha)

Buses catch one’s attention immediately in Tamil Nadu, especially if one is an outsider. The reason being, the artistic way these vehicles are painted with myriad images ranging from classical dance to Gods to parrots to tigers to droids.

India International Centre’s ongoing virtual photo exhibition “Colours Unlimited: The Bus Art Of Tamil Nadu”, presents pictures of such buses by well-known photographer and filmmaker Vijay S. Jodha. The elegant artwork in bright hues on the buses is captured well by the camera, making the show vibrant.

Travelling across the State, Jodha found that the bus artists were not restrictive on the subject matter of their artwork. “These bus artworks veer away from cinema and politics that is staple of giant hoardings that are the other large public art form in Tamil Nadu. Otherwise, there is no subject that seems out of bounds. Androids from the modern western science fiction world find space alongside ancient temples and classical dance.”

Talking about unusual themes, one image which draws instant notice is the droid – looking menacing with all its wires and sharp teeth – all set to grab the conductor standing on the footboard giving the picture a novel nuance.

Jodha has gone beyond merely clicking these buses. “I am not interested in straightforward documentation as much as the interplay between the various elements i.e. the art, the physical buses that display them and the people. So came into being the image where the conductor is trying to make an escape or a lady heading to work in Nagapattinam who seems to be a real life version of the lady painted on the bus.”

Almost all the images mounted in the show have a distinct human element in them. Be it a bus driver speaking on the mobile sitting on his seat or the conductor waiting for passengers, or an old lady boarding the bus or a group of ladies disembarking.

Discussing this aspect with India Narrative, Jodha said, “Art doesn't exist in isolation and how people react to it is a reflection of the art as well as the audience.  It’s like that photo of eminent British photographer Martin Parr’s famous image of Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre, Paris that captures not the painting which has been photographed a million times. Instead, he focuses on how visitors react to it. Even indifference to what may seem like very striking artwork, is a form of reaction.”

Jodha does well to spot offbeat scenes in the midst of mundane looking ones. For example the two parrots – one yellow with blue feathers and the other all red – sitting on the branch of the tree seem to contemplate intently at the tail lights of the other parked vehicle.

The images also highlight the mastery of the artists of these drawings. Be it the tigers or elephants or a camel, all look so life-like and in fact makes the viewer feel that one is watching a wildlife documentary or show.

Even though the bus art is apolitical, Jodha’s keen sense of observation did zone on an issue which had the whole State of Tamil Nadu agitated. “I did spot images of Jallikattu bulls. This was one can say a political statement as certain elements have been trying to get this 2400 year-old Tamil tradition banned altogether…The issue is far from settled but those graphics affirm people’s take on this issue,” remarked Jodha.

Jodha feels that the role of such art has a role in society. “It is a craving for arts and aesthetics that makes daily life a bit more interesting and joyous. It was once completely something experienced first hand and required no mediation from any middlemen. These ‘galleries on wheels” hold no such ambitions and wait for no audience. They go to the audiences.”

(The exhibition is on till November 14. Click on: to view)