If there is any interview that has touched our souls then it has to be this one. Cop Shiva, a photographer cum police constable, in a tete-a-tete with Arun shares a very profound thought – to have dreams is a luxury not everyone can afford. Read this magical interview with Cop Shiva as he graciously gives us a glimpse into his life, and in his own charismatic way reminds us not to take dreams for granted – because for some to nurture dreams is a far-stretched thought.
Shivaraju BS aka Cop Shiva, 36 years, Artist, Bangalore
Interviewed by Arun Maharajan
Why did you decide to give us an interview on dreams?
When I was born, we didn’t even have what I can call a basic life. By basic life I mean – basic food, clothes and all… Because of the circumstances at home, we never dreamt, and that’s why I want to talk about dreams.
We used to live in a very old house. Whenever it rained, my mother and I used to put vessels everywhere to collect the rain water. I still remember that. At one point we didn’t even have electricity. We disconnected the electricity connection because we didn’t have the money to pay our electricity bills. I think we lived without electricity for 8-9 years. Then when I started working, I brought electricity back to the house. But even then, the amount I was earning was just enough for food and clothes. We never dreamt. We could not afford to dream.
What happened next?
After a few years, my mother and I started talking about building a house. A very basic house with walls and a sheet for a roof. Our house was in a bad condition in 2010 itself; we pushed the decision till 2014, and finally the house said “No, I can’t stand!”
The house said “no”?
Yes of course! It was too much for it to take. Lot of things happened in that house. Pain, happiness…you know…hundred different things…and the house kept looking and listening to everything that happened or was said. The house knew our lives the way others didn’t.
Then in 2014, we demolished the house and I shifted my mother to a rented house. At that time, I did not have much money but I decided to take a loan and build a house.
Thankfully I sold some of my art work to a museum in 2015. So I thought that I could build a proper house with a cement roof and all. We gradually started building a house in 2015. In 2016, I went to Sweden for an art fellowship. I remember my mother did not like staying in the rented house, but she did not want to stay with my sister’s family either. You know how women from the village are…they don’t like to stay in the daughter’s house. My mother always has her own agenda. If she wants something, then I can’t change her mind.
When did you start harboring dreams?
When I was in Sweden. I think here it is too much. You know… you just can’t be with yourself.
By here you mean in Bangalore or in your day to day life?
In my day to day life. This was my first long term international residency program. I stayed in Goteborg. It was a huge studio on campus. That was the first time I was with myself. I started talking to myself and reflecting on my life. I was planning my life and building dreams. That’s how I made up my mind to build a studio for myself. A house for my mother, and a studio for myself. I realized then it was now or never. I wasn’t going to build a house again and again. I wasn’t able to discuss this with anybody because I had to figure out the finances, and also perhaps others may not have understood my dream or may not want anything to do with it.
Who are these “other people”?
You know…my sister, my mother and all. You know, even until 2016 I couldn’t harbor any dreams because of my circumstances. Life was only about doing things and doing things. Only in 2016, I got a chance to dream – I wanted to build a house, and finally I built the house.
It is finished?
Yes, we finished building it in September. I built two floors. I put some serial set and all…you know…like the houses in the village. My mother liked it. These days, my mother and I pinch ourselves.
You still can’t believe you have built a house?
Exactly. I can understand that crores of people in my situation cannot dream.
Are you referring to their background i.e. where they are born into?
Exactly. I mean, you wake up in the morning and you wonder, “Where can I find my food?” So how are you going to dream?
You said you started dreaming only in 2016…
Yes. Dreaming for a better life. People dream of building a house, buying a site, buying a car etc. This was my very first dream. I wanted to build a house, and I did it. But I don’t know what will be my next dream.
I think it will happen soon. That’s my personal feeling. Do you know that you are living the dream of a lot of people? People who were perhaps born under better circumstances and with more education and exposure.
People ask me whether I know the value of some things, and I just tell them that I don’t know.
In 2015, I was nominated for the Robert Gardener Fellowship awarded by the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at the Harvard University. It is the world’s biggest photography fellowship. Only big curators, art historians and anthropologists get nominated. I was nominated by Christopher Pinney, a UK-based anthropologist. He really liked my work and he asked me to send a few pictures to him. He nominated me without my knowledge.
One morning I saw an email from Harvard University congratulating me for getting nominated for this fellowship, which was worth a significant amount. I did not have any idea about the Peabody Museum. I might have heard of Harvard, but not Peabody. So I thought this was a Nigerian spam email. How could someone just write to me saying I stood a chance to get so much money! I went for a walk, returned home and googled the Peabody Museum and the Robert Gardener Fellowship. Then I was totally shocked.
In the end, I was one of the three finalists. I was the youngest among all people nominated. I couldn’t get it in the end though.
I think that is what is brilliant here. You mentioned being nominated by someone else for the residency in Sweden as well. Everybody sees this incredible value in your work, but you are simply working. Do you have a fellowship or some residency in mind when you are working?
Never. You see when I start working I don’t think of anything else. I just work like a donkey. But my energy level is totally different. I discussed this with a friend too. People can’t live with me because I am too intense. I can’t sit in one place. I need to keep going somewhere, and doing something. Now I am beginning to understand that people don’t have the kind of energy I do.
The last question has nothing to do with your interview topic, but we ask everyone we interview – what does love mean to you?
Understanding. I am telling you from my own experience. You want to love someone, and the other person wants to love you back. But you need understanding. Both will need time for that.