Melbourne’s designer tram with a desi connect

Indian-Australian artist turns Melbourne tram into a colourful canvas with a Kolkata connect

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It’s kitschy, it’s cool and it’s definitely colourful.

For commuters on the streets of Melbourne, it is hard to miss the bright vinyl wrapped tram that currently plies on route No 11 West Preston and No 86 Bundoora tramlines.

Tramjatra is first of the eight trams designed to bring colour and creativity to Melbourne’s daily commute and is eliciting mixed response for its visual imagery.

Using elements of popular Indian streets and tribal art, Lucknow-born Indian-Australian artist Bushra Hasan has designed Tramjatra to honour the 21-year-old tramways relationship between Kolkata and Melbourne.

Esoteric is the word that springs to mind as one absorbs the art that has been made inherently accessible and public, courtesy the Melbourne Art Trams project.

A Victorian Government initiative, the project is a collaboration between Creative Victoria, Public Transport Victoria and Melbourne Festival with Yarra Trams.

The annual Melbourne Art Trams project, now in its 5th year, invites Victorian artists and community groups to submit designs that transform trams into mobile artworks.

Apart from Bushra, this year the designs are by artists Robert Owen, Matthew Clarke, Emma Anna, Oliver Hutchison, Justine McAllister, Josh Muir and St Albans Heights Primary School’s Community Hub.

Speaking animatedly, Bushra shared the story of how her art made it to the largest ever canvas she has worked with.

“My art exists beyond the gallery, it is in everyday objects from a simple spoon to a storage can, buckets, tins and now to a tram,” said Bushra, who is also the co-founder of Indybindi designs.

Bushra created Indybindi, along with her two sisters Maryam and Zoya, to give visual expression to ordinary items and transform them into masterpieces.

Their promising business venture also supports Ashiana, an NGO for underprivileged women and children in Uttar Pradesh. Rural women are encouraged to learn to paint items, generate an income and be self-reliant.

A graphic designer by profession, Bushra has worked in India with fashion and lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a senior designer and Harper’s Bazaar as an Assistant Art director.

She migrated to Australia in 2013 and after brief stints in Sydney and Launceston, settled for the world’s most liveable city.

During a visit to meet her sister, who was studying at RMIT, Bushra visited Melbourne and the city worked its charm on her. “The artist in me wanted to live in this beautiful city and I moved here with my husband in 2014,” she said, sharing her migrant journey.

She worked for St Kilda News as a graphic designer and is currently working on freelance projects with Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV). She was also responsible for designing the two lifelike moving elephants at the Moomba Parade in 2015.

Tramjatra was initiated in partnership with Melbourne trammie Roberto D’Andrea. A friendship society was started in 1996 between Melbourne and Kolkata as the two cities outside of Europe that have used trams since 19th century. This year, they celebrated their 21st anniversary.  

“I must admit that initially when Roberto explained the concept to me, I was unsure how to incorporate all the past Tramjatra characters and over 20 years of history in my design. It was such a good story with so much to say but I did not want the tram to look cluttered so I decided to use truck art,” said Bushra.

“Truck art is funky, kitschy and I can juxtapose it with artworks from different regions of India that are reflective of its diversity,” said the talented artist.

According to Bushra, she added her own touches like the eyes of Goddess Durga that ward off all evil and are symbolic of the complexities of India’s contemporary society, particularly notions of gender.

She tried to reflect the warm Indian welcome and hospitality on the doors with images of flowers being showered on the passengers and the Indian Namaste.

Characters like Bondhu, Calbourne, Sundari, Cricket, Baccha, Shared-Lung, Paribeshbandhu and Gitanjali were incorporated in the design. Orange-bellied Parrots next to Great Indian Hornbills were also included.

All of this was designed on computer and then reproduced on vinyl. It took her a month to create the design and then put it on sticker art. It took nearly two days and specialised workers to wrap the vinyl in perfect alignment around the tram.

“I want everyone who looks at the tram to smile. I want to communicate the vibrancy, colour and diversity of India whilst retaining the rich Tramjatra history,” said Bushra. “I also want the colours to cut into the grey tone of Melbourne,” she continued with a smile.

The other seven trams, with their own unique design concepts, will also be hitting Melbourne’s streets soon. All the trams will stay on tracks till April 2018.

Throughout the lively conversation on topics ranging from challenges faced by her to her grasp of traditional art and technology, her politically inclined family and her rebellious siblings, Bushra was delightfully candid.

She also shared with characteristic enthusiasm the ‘overall positive’ feedback she has received for her design so far.

With art being subjective and open to multiple interpretations, people have made several comments on Bushra’s artwork ranging from incredible to hideous.

Whether you love it or hate it, you simply cannot ignore it.