Petrolheads were brought up short last week when they were faced with a car clad in bronze and detailed with wheels. This static sculpture is a 1956 Fiat Millicento and a whimsy of my friend Yusuf Arakkal; it was the cynosure of attention at Art Bengaluru, an explosion of art that captured our fancy all through the week at the UB City.
One of India’s most renowned contemporary artists, Arakkal is also fun and down-to-earth. He got the fiat in a barter trade from a friend who picked up two paintings and a small sculpture from him in 1985. “It has never given me any major problems, we have used it well for twenty years; my wife Sara drove it to work, my son Shibu learnt to drive in it”. A few years ago, it was time for it to retire but Arakkal did not have the heart to junk it.
He got his friend and collaborator, Joseph Antony involved and with a team of half a dozen workers, clad the car in bronze. Over it, they inlaid details from Yusuf’s earliest series of paintings, Wheels. The designs include wheels, nuts on the sides and on top of the car with what look like hierographics thrown in for good measure to give it a period look. Every detail is cast by hand with work happening sporadically between his other projects.
The car now became an art piece and when it was ready in 1989, it was still perfectly capable of taking to the roads. Its worth however had gone up and faced with the thought of the problems of maneouvring it through traffic and dealing with traffic police and road transport officials, Yusuf decided that it was better off as a static sculpture and removed the gearbox.
It spent a year in wilderness last year after a restaurant to which they had loaned it for display in Delhi was closed. The land was seized by the Delhi Development Authorities and with it, the car too. The car was finally restored to its rightful owner and the team spent a month in undoing the damages.
Arakkal was invited to exhibit it at the Venice Biennale this month but chose to feature it in his adopted hometown. He has also received of offers of a crore of rupees for the car from collectors abroad but he told me he would prefer it if an Indian buys it. Alas, I had to tell that I don’t have a crore in small change.
Bangaloreans were thrilled that it was the frontispiece at the luxury shopping mall that had turned into an art gallery, with a multitude of artworks displayed in the lobby, at landings, outside stores, and along corridors. Seventeen galleries from across India displayed over 300 artworks – paintings, sculptures, installations, photographs, digital art- by over 100 contemporary Indian artists.