Mirages of the Past - Mapping Bangalore
History is handed down to us in deftly researched bibliographies and relics. While the human mind attempts to conceptualise the probable ways in which the present could be different, one doesn’t assign the same possibilities to the past. As part of her final art project for the Srishti School of Art and Design, Surasti Puri did just that. She brought to fore various possible alterations that could be imagined with the city of Bangalore and represented them by mapping them down in a project called ‘Mirages of the Past’. Surasti shared the project with us, and told us all about how she came to draw lines across Bangalore’s history.
I. MM: What is your project all about?
SP: The project was to find out about Bangalore and its history. I had been here 4 years and I realized I didn't know very much about it, next to nothing actually. The project allowed me to explore Bangalore historically and try to summarize that by mapping the city, illustrating it and storytelling; fictionalizing aspects to allow people to delve further into the city. Almost like tricking them into learning since history tends to only get sighs and boos.
II. MM: Why the idea to create alternate histories of Bangalore?
SP: Initially the project was just to understand the city and its history and represent that, but through my earlier periods of research I came to the conclusion that a simple map of bangalore (Maps were my main focus for the graphic representation right from the beginning) would seem a bit boring, so I worked on alternative timelines for Bangalore and how a single event might trigger another series of events. This wasn't an exercise into wondering what Bangalore could be like but rather to create points of interest where people merge fictional and nonfictional events causing some intrinsic curiosity to make them know about the original history some more and try to separate the facts from fiction.
III. MM: How did you go about executing this project?
SP: The project had multiple stages, but a large amount was about collection information, reading, reading some more, and getting feedback for the concept itself, following which I started working on the alternative maps, combining bangalore's maps with other routes and networks, then marking out fictionalized as well as certain factual points of interest in the map, and then writing a short anecdote for each to make it more believable. The hardest part was the style for each map itself, it took me weeks to understand what style would work with the map, history, stories and Bangalore itself.
IV. MM: Could you explain how you create lines of history? What is the research that went into it?
SP: For the alternative histories, I started with writing down the timeline of Bangalore, cross-checking with at least 2-3 sources to get the dates and names right. After that I highlighted important people, events, time periods and wrote down their timelines and contributions. This was the important part where I had to decide where to sort of split the timeline and what event /person would be the leading factor. I set down some basic rules for myself, for instance, within the map itself even the fictional ones would need some point of reference so that the viewer could associate with it (which was Lal Bagh and to some extent Cubbon Park) so all changes had to happen post the construction of both landmarks. Similarly, I allowed simple guidelines like this to narrow down my options and create each of the alternative timelines.
V. MM: Do you see yourself mapping alternative versions of contemporary history?
SP: At this point it would be something I would love to do, though combining history with mapping and fiction was a dream, I would like to try contemporary 'what if' situations, steering clear of obvious political etc. connotations, and rather working at it from an 'art project' angle.
Words: Meher Manda