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Branding Authenticity 

A Simulacrum Exercise Branding the city of Hyderabad through Wall Paintings | Reshma Esther Thomas

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The paper wishes to throw light on the attempt by local administrative bodies of Hyderabad to brand an identity for the city. Hyderabad was torn by identity crises post the bifurcation of the state of Andhra Pradesh into Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. This attempt to create an authentic lineage is seen through the many wall paintings the city of Hyderabad has been adorned with in the last 5 years. This paper investigates this attempt by the government by two parameters.
1. The Style of the painting
2. The Subject of the painting

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1. The Style of the Painting

Recently, the pillars below flyovers in the city have been adorned with paintings. The subjects or themes of these paintings range from politicians, dance forms and various traditional art forms. Amongst these, one painting style that has been finding wall (pun intended) has been the Cheriyal paintings. Cheriyal Paintings, traditionally are paintings on scroll with natural colors. These colors are derived from sea shells and other natural materials. However, today these paintings adorn the concrete pillars. The paintings have lost their materiality both in terms of the surface they adorn and also the colors. Today acrylic and poster colors have replaced the natural dyes. This illustrates clearly how as an attempt to portray the city with a past of heritage and various cultures, the art forms have been modified and almost made a new one based on the needs of the new bodies. Most Cherial artworks are painted in vivid hues using primary colours, predominantly red in the background. To prepare these panels, tamarind seeds are grounded into a paste and mixed with lac. This paste is then used along with mineral colours.

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2. The Subject of the paintings

What then is interesting is the subject of Cheriyal Paintings. What used to be once events from the Ramayana has now transformed to local festivals and cultures of the land. One could find now festivals of Bonalu and individual women without any context on the pillars. Bonalu, a festival which has gained popularity in the recent years post the bifurcation as a tradition of Telangana has been portrayed in the paintings. It is also interesting to know that the government of Telangana has from the past 5 years been spending huge amounts of money on the festival and trying to bring it to the forefront. This could be seen in the fact that the state has now declared a holiday for Bonalu where as 10 years ago, there was no holiday to celebrate the festival.

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Paintings as a Branding Tool to establish Authenticity A simulacrum

What makes a place lovable? At CNU 27 in Louisville (in 2019), someone said, “Lovable places were often created
by many people over many different years, lending them authenticity.” This implies that we love older places more than new ones. But when was the last time you stood in a beautiful town square and thought about authenticity?

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What is this obsession with authenticity? Hyderabad, a historic city, has been pulling great crowds for its IT sector. The population of Hyderabad shows that in 2020 it has touched a 1 crore mark with close to 10 lakhs belonging to the booming IT industry. Nevertheless, the city still continues to use historic images to prove its authentic lineage by portraying images of Charminar, Golconda Fort and Birla Mandir.

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Authenticity has also emerged, especially in the past decade, as a potent branding tool that motivates consumers and favors the attraction of capital in the experience economy. Multiple evidence proves this attempt by the government. The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, the local administrative body as part of its corporate social responsibility introduced an option for the citizens and organization in the city to paint the public walls. By donating a certain amount of money, the portal allows one to choose from an array of areas in the city where you wish a wall to be painted and allows you to choose the artist.

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However, it is interesting to note here that the artists have all been part of the age old advertisement companies. The program also does not allow one to choose the subject of the painting. This suddenly becomes the responsibility of the local body. These artists have no clue of the art work, its method, materiality or for that matter don't understand scale often.

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This is the branding Hyderabad has been offering. By branding historical and cultural practices as authentic, Hyderabad, a city is trying to make for itself an identity in this new found crises with the bifurcation is finding its ground. Steven Poole in his article, Why are we so obsessed with the pursuit of authenticity? Published in the  Statesman, further emphasises this quest for authenticity. He declares that this is a form of simulacrum, by trying to establish this authenticity as a branding tactic. Thereby Hyderabad has been using the idea of simulacrum to brand the city with a culture and heritage which is authentic.

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1. Piazzoni, M. F. (2018) Authenticity Makes the City. How "the Authentic" Affects the Production of Space. In L. Tate & B. Shannon Planning for Authenticities , New York and London: Routledge. 154-169.

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