VISITORS TO AN EXHIBITION of photography in Bengaluru this May were greeted with what appeared to be a shot of a life-size statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. But on closer scrutiny, details of the black-and-white photograph emerged—there were pores on the subject’s skin, and the statue was, improbably, standing in the middle of the road. As one moved along the row of photographs on the wall, the statue seemed to move as well: now balanced on a cycle and now mid-stride, walking through the backyard of a house.
The photographs were part of an exhibition at Gallery Sumukha titled Face Two Face, the debut solo show of a man famous in Bengaluru for his fascinating double life: Shivaraju BS is a constable with the city’s police who has a parallel career as a photographer. Ironically, it is in the latter life that he is known by his snappy nickname, Cop Shiva.
Shivaraju’s life took a defining turn in 2007, when he moved into an art gallery in the city named 1 Shanthi Road, a space for alternative art practices, run by curator (and Shivaraju’s cousin) Suresh Jayaram. Shivaraju’s father was undergoing treatment for cancer in a nearby hospital and Suresh offered him accommodation in the gallery. He didn’t quite have the space to himself, however. Sharing it with him were sculptures fashioned from trash by a Sri Lankan artist, part of the show running at the time. “I was shocked. I didn’t know art. What was this?” says Shivaraju, recalling his first impressions of the art on display. Taking up residence in a loft above the gallery space, Shivaraju, the son of a farmer in Bannikuppe, a village near Ramnagara, continued with his job as a constable but in his spare time also pitched in to help Jayaram run 1 Shanthi Road.