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Jayati Godhawat

IWB Blogger

Cop Shiva Will Arrest Your Attention With His Photographic Thoughts On Rural India

  • IWB Post
  •  November 11, 2017


It’s never too late to start doing what you love, and Bangalore-based Shivaraju BS (aka Cop Shiva) is a perfect example of a person who nurtured his dreams with open eyes and followed his passion against all the odds.

Born and brought up in a family of farmers in a small village near Karnataka, Shivaraju’s family wanted him to become a government official. However, he was an artist by heart and wanted to pursue a career in any art form.

Nonetheless, he applied to serve in the Police Department and was appointed as a police constable in Karnataka Police Department, in 2001. When he shifted to Bangalore, he started visiting an alternative art space, 1Shanhtiroad Studio/Art Gallery and that’s where he came in contact with the local artists and photographers.

The dormant artist in him was now wide awake, and it was the first photography project allocated to him by 1Shanhtiroad that invoked the photographer in him.img_3

In 2010, he became a full-time Photographer, and his work is displayed in Gallery Sumukha (Bangalore) and Art Heritage Gallery (New Delhi). Also, his photography series has been a part of many National and International shows. The beauty of his photography lies in the way he captures the everyday lives of common people through his lens.

Shivaraju gets candid with IWB and reveals the inspiration behind the name, “Cop Shiva,” amongst other things.

How did turning into a photographer made you more compassionate about your work as a cop?

Shivaraju: Being in touch with people, in any aspect of life, makes you more empathic to the everyday struggles of the common man. I have always been interested in Arts and Culture. Since my childhood, I have been enjoying trying different forms of art like writing, singing, and dancing. 

Once relocated to Bangalore I had the opportunity to collaborate with the alternative art space 1shanthiroad gallery/studio. I met many interesting and artistic people. I was in charge of documenting the different projects happening in the studio, and I got hooked on photography, I realized that was the form of expression that allows me to pursue my artistic interest. 

As a policeman I have developed a very sharp eye, always attentive to the world around, looking for unusual things that can be problematic to society. But most of all, I wanted to be a witness.

What inspired the name, Cop Shiva?img_4

Shivaraju: When I started collaborating with the alternative art space 1shanthiroad gallery/studio in Bangalore as a Programme Coordinator, I had the chance to meet many interesting Visual Artists, Scholars, Filmmakers, and Photographers who influenced me, and somehow, they all started calling me Cop Shiva. And, it has stuck with me till now!

Is it just me or you, too, think that Cop Shiva can be a really cool name for a South Indian film?

How has your childhood helped in shaping your personality as an artist and traveler?

Shivaraju: I come from a farming community in rural Bangalore. As a child, I was aware of the very limited opportunities available in the rural India to progress, and the amount of struggle and hardship that is attached to an agricultural lifestyle where life is defined by each day subsistence. 

It’s the years of struggle that makes me very thankful for each and every personal goal I achieve. Also, my childhood always makes me aware of the huge gap between the Rural and Urban India. As a photographer, as a policeman and as a migrant myself, I seek intimacy through the lens of my camera, which has become a receptacle and a record of the everyday lives of the people at the fringes of the society. And, negotiating all these different aspects of my life have allowed me to construct my personal narrative that is shown in my work.

Indeed, his photo series captures the true essence of empathy!

One project that is very close to your heart?

Shivaraju: The project that focuses on BagadehalliBasavaraj, a Gandhi impersonator, has been very rewarding not only for me but also for the protagonist himself. He got the much-deserved recognition and is getting much more respect from the institution and the general public than before. 

Is this the same project that you recently exhibited at the Frank Museum of Art at Otterbein University in Columbus, Ohio, USA? What did you learn from BagadehalliBasavaraj?

Shivaraju: Yes, ‘On Being Gandhi: The Art and Politics of Seeing,’  is a project that focuses on BagadehalliBasavaraj, a Gandhi impersonator. He is  46 years old, is from Bagadehalli village in Kadur, Chikmagalur district, Karnataka – one of the two places in India where a temple for Gandhi still stands. Basavaraj has been working as a teacher with various local schools for 29 years. He was drawn to Gandhi’s principles early on in life. He belonged to an extremely poor family and was struggling to educate himself when another family helped him. This spirit of giving led Basavaraj to Gandhi and simplicity as a way of life. Rather than vociferous campaigns to advocate Gandhism, he took a visually stunning act that for the last 14 years have attracted more than just curious stares.
Once in a while, Basavaraj douses himself in silver paint, dresses in Gandhi gear–bare-chested and dhoti-clad, round-rimmed spectacles on the nose and a walking stick in hand, and walks around the streets of villages and nearby cities. He sometimes stands still as a statue for hours together. His Gandhi act never ceases to surprise. Some dismiss him as insane, some throw money at him assuming that he’s an innovative beggar, and many quizzes him. He explains them about Gandhi and preaches his teachings. Basavaj told me once that he simply wants people to remember Gandhi.

Salute to BagadehalliBasavaraj!

What are you focussing on through your lens?

Shivaraju:  I feel upset and sad that most of the people completely disregard the less fortunate people around us. I think we live in a society where there is a chronic lack of empathy. If we were more aware of the difficulties of a major part of the population, we would all be more caring and just. 

I hope my photographs move something inside the audiences and they turn an eye to the common man’s struggles in everyday life and change their perspectives about “the others” in a better way.

How do you fuel your passion for photography, every day?

Shivaraju: Discipline is the name of the game! I am very disciplined with my time management and very hard worker. I wake up early and make sure I am aware of my surroundings all the time, I like to wander around and let experiences happen to me.


Your most treasured photograph and the story behind it?


Shivaraju: The first project assigned to me was to depict the life of the migrant laborers in the construction sites of Shanthi Nagar. Indeed that was a turning point for me, as, after this, I decided to take my photography to the next level. And of course, there’s BagadehalliBasavaraj whose life I have documented for many years, and till today it’s one of my most iconic and recognized bodies of work.

You also capture urban/rural immigrants. Share with us your personal urban and rural conflict.

Shivaraju: In my practice, I document the complexity of Rural and Urban India, focusing on people and portraiture as a genre, fascinated with the idea of masquerade and the roles people play in their public and private space. My portfolio includes intimate portraits of urban migrants, people of alternative sexuality, street performers and others living in the hinterland of urban and rural conflict. I capture the diversity of humans who live on the edge and represent the spirit of our times.img_1

As a documentary photographer, my practice happens mainly on the streets, and my subject is always the human being and his deep-rooted emotions. I capture the ordinary man in an extraordinary situation and his conflict or dialogue with the surroundings. My intention is to create a situation in public space for visual debate. I want to draw notice into realities that many times go unnoticed in our society. There are many real heroes, achievers working hard to change the society we live in and to bring more justice to our immediate surroundings. They act on a small scale, yet are catalysts to a real and positive change. They are the focus of my work and to bring them to bigger audiences is my main target.

Being an artist is a very personal experience, believing in yourself and finding your own voice is a complex and painful journey, but once you decide to take your work forward, everything falls into place.

One struggle of rural migrants that most urban people fail to understand.

Shivaraju: The lack of opportunities in general, that comes from the disregard of the institution in the potential of Rural India. The lack of reliable infrastructure of any type creates a practical desert in rural areas and those of us who live in cities sometimes forget the amount of choices and opportunities available to us.

True that!

One woman from your life that you have photographed the most?

Shivaraju: My mother and my sisters, they are the backbone of my life and the ones who keep me grounded.


Shivaraju with his sister

One stranger woman whom you fell in love with as a photographer.

Shivaraju: The Statue of Liberty in New York! It gives me the chills just imagining the feelings of immigrants who reached America after a long and dangerous boat trip looking for a chance to build a life and being ushered in by the majestic presence of this statue.

Wow, never looked at Statue of Liberty from this perspective!


P.S.: To know more about Cop Shiva and his work, you may visit his website, here.

Photo Courtesy: Cop Shiva Facebook

This article was first published in December, 2016.

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