Over the past few months, two artists have been documenting the sights and memories that define the cities they live in: Delhi and Bengaluru. If artist Aditya Raj, who first arrived in the Capital to study law, was inspired by Inktober, an art challenge held every October, Bengaluru-based Sangeetha Alwar has recreated memories of a pre-covid city through its people and iconic locations.
Raj, who has lived in Delhi for more than a decade, is a full-time artist now. Inspired by Inktober, he has created 31 paintings, largely watercolours, of some of Delhi’s most iconic shopfronts and buildings, from Khan Market’s Bahrisons Booksellers to Delhi Gate’s Delite Cinema hall. And he plans to continue.
“Everybody knows about Qutub Minar or Humayun’s Tomb. I wanted to focus on buildings which people wouldn’t generally look at. They are part of your life. You are constantly going to these places but you don’t notice them,” says the 30-year-old on the phone.
Raj, who had till now worked largely on portraits, admits he has had to step outside his comfort zone. “This is the first time I have done architectural drawings. I am new to this too,” he says. “I am trying to use muted palettes. Most of these places are in the city and not that bright. Watercolours work well with those kinds of hues.”
Raj initially planned to draw places he had a connection with—the Big Chill Creamery in Khan Market, for example. But over the last few weeks, as his work received more attention on Instagram, he started receiving suggestions and requests. A friend from the US requested that he draw Old Delhi’s Sita Ram Diwan Chand, famous for its channe bhature. Recently, he started taking pre-orders for prints of his work. “A lot of places come to mind when you think of Delhi. I have realised that 31 artworks won’t be enough,” says Raj.
For Alwar, the Illustrated Bangalore series of 12 digital prints, begun in July, is “homage” to the city before covid-19 struck. Alwar grew up in cities across south India, including Bengaluru. “It’s a peep into what we were (and Bengaluru as a city) before the pandemic,” says the 27-year-old, a guest faculty at the University of Mysore’s English department.
Alwar says earlier illustrations tended to focus on spaces such as Cubbon Park or the State Central Library. “I started my series with a flower seller at KR Market. I made it from a photo reference from a friend. When you speak of a city and look at it holistically, you have to look at the people. That is what makes a space beautiful,” she says. Another panel features the famous Blossom Book House on Church Street and its owner, Mayi Gowda.
Alwar used an Apple iPad Pro and the Procreate app to make these digital works, giving them a pastel, crayon-like finish. Alwar doesn’t intend to extend the series but she does plan to make them available for purchase. “Things won’t go back to what they were two years ago. In that sense, these artworks will show you a Bengaluru that did not know covid-19.”