Flex culture in Bengaluru explained

Published : November 08, 2019 19:23 IST

A flex poster welcoming Rahul Gandhi for campaigning for the Karnataka Assembly election in 2018, in Bengaluru. Photo: K. MURALI_KUMAR

A common scene in Bengaluru, like many other Indian cities, is the widespread display of flex banners of various sizes. If a major politician visits the city, it is the chance for his loyalists to display their devotion to their leader through these banners which will adorn the main road to the city. Festival occasions and national and State events are other times where the city is suddenly inundated with flex banners from politicians and various organisations. Kannada nativist organisations have also adopted these banners on a large scale to communicate their messages to residents. How do we understand these displays and their messages?

A new book titled Flexing Muscles that was recently launched in the city attempts to explain what flex culture is all about in the silicon city. The book has been written by Ravikumar Kashi, a Bengaluru-based artist who works across different mediums. “Flex banners are made of thin, plastic coated material with a fabric backing and are suitable for outdoor display,” said Kashi and that is the reason why they have become so ubiquitous in the city.

Kashi started noticing these flex banners from 2007 onwards when there were only a few banners displayed. Since 2012, the density of these banners has increased. Kannada organisations which usually have ‘sene’, or ‘army’, suffixed to their name began to use them widely from 2016 according to Kashi, and over the past two years caste-based organisations have begun to use them widely to communicate their messages. About this, Kashi writes, “Largely composed of informally educated youth from low-income backgrounds, these sene (armies) also feature local businessmen, shop-keepers, and political affiliates as higher ranking members. They are largely nurtured and supported by politicians who depend on them and their workers during the elections. These sene also support themselves through donations and collections from local residences and businesses. The flex banners they produce give them public visibility, and through them they are able to evoke authority, support, and power within their neighbourhoods.”

In his short book, Kashi locates the growth of the culture of flex banners along with the gargantuan growth of Bengaluru and the concomitant growth of Kannada nativist organisations. The hierarchy of leadership of a particular organisation and the purported intimacy of individuals can be deciphered from the size and layout of photographs displayed on the banner. Kashi also locates the provenance of these stylistic choices, which may appear random at first glance, through a study of traditional Mysore paintings showing that there is a certain design tradition which these flex banners follow.

As an artist, Kashi has mainly looked at flex banners through the lens of visual culture, but his book, which has several photographs and is bilingual with a Kannada component, provides an interesting premise on the basis of which social scientists can analyse political and social movements through a study of these public messages. The book has been published by Reliable Copy and is priced at Rs. 650.

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