Anyone who has ever heard of Dharavi knows that its famous for being one of the largest slums in the world and the place to go for slum tours (for tourists!). But since November this year it has added another feather to its cap – its very own street art and graffiti. For this project, 20 internationally renowned street artists from all over the world (with different art styles and techniques) came together along with the St+Art Foundation and brought street art to select areas in Mumbai – mainly Bandra and Dharavi.
The St+Art India foundation is a not-for-profit organization that works on art projects in public spaces with an aim to make art accessible to a wider audience by taking it out of the conventional gallery space and embedding it within the cities we live in. St+art is an urban art festival that aims to promote street art on Indian landscapes, as well as provide a collaborative platform for artists from all over the world.
In November this year they conducted a street art festival in Mumbai via workshops, talks, curated walks, exhibitions etc to showcase this art. They also conducted walking tours along with Mumbai Instagrammers (MI) at both these locations to showcase these beautiful pieces of art, and though I missed the Bandra walk I made it for the Dharavi one. I had been following the MI group since a long time and had really wanted to go on one of their photo-walks; but somehow it just never worked out. But this one did and turned out to another unique experience in itself. I am sharing the same with you today..
All the registered participants (and many of them regulars with MI) met at a small government school in Dharavi and were introduced to Juilia, the exhibition curator, and other local volunteers from the St+Art Foundation.
Juilia commenced the walk with an introduction to their approach to street art and the reason for choosing this medium to exhibit their art. She said that they use street art as a mechanism to work with locals and develop the local economy of such locations. She said that they choose such streets for this art, as street art is always best experienced in it’s natural environment, i.e. the local streets. Art should also not be limited to galleries but be accessible to everyone and what better place for this than the local streets.
This art also highlights local landmarks. The streets where they paint normally don’t have street names and these paintings normally become the local landmarks. In fact Juilia mentioned that the street where she lives in Delhi, is now known (even to auto fellows) by the large mural adjacent to her house.
This form of art instills a sense of pride in the locals as they get involved by allowing the artists to paint their walls as well as learn how to maintain these paintings. This wall below was actually painted by the local kids, who by the way were showing off their wall to us when we visited.
Juilia also explained that such art has assisted them in developing a culture within the localities as there’s nothing like chancing upon a beautiful new painting on one of the streets that you are familiar with. I personally witnessed it too as I suddenly saw a beautiful mural in my locality in Bandra. Standing in front of a dilapidated wall with a gorgeous graffiti was like coming across a hidden treasure in one of these old unexpected chests hidden in your attic (and you being completely unaware of it!). It brought a smile to my face and kept it there all day 🙂
Another added benefit is that old dilapidated grey surfaces get a new lease of life with vibrant and beautiful pieces of art. Completely transforming these walls and the neighborhoods.
Each painting has a theme and in majority of the cases it has been derived from the local neighborhoods. For example take Tona’s work below. Tona is a German artist who creates graffiti via paste up and stenciling techniques. He first thought of using his earlier pictures of European kids as stencils here. But then after spending a couple of days around Mumbai he took pictures of local kids and made fresh stencils for these murals.
During our own photo walk in Dharavi, we walked through many narrow lanes and roof top terraces of the buildings. Many of these pieces here are done on roof tops as it was traditionally done in the US. Initially these places were considered inaccessible and illegal to paint on and graffiti artists used to undertake these risky ventures, climb on rooftops and paint an entire mural overnight.
My personal favorite was the “rainbow project” and they are encouraging everyone to try this on their building walls. It is super easy – just fill multiple plastic bottles with varied colored paint and place them next to each other. Then just flip them on the side of the wall for beautiful effects, as shown below.
During the walk we also met numerous local volunteers who have grown up in these areas and are now involved with this initiative. Their sense of pride in their work and being involved with this initiative was very endearing. They took us around in public transport and even refused to let us pay as it. They also showed us pictures taken when these murals were being made and introduced us to the artists too.
Overall this entire photo-walk turned out to be much more than just walking through a neighborhood and taking pictures. It turned into a unique learning experience and I noted the following things:
1. This was my first visit to Dharavi and not as a slum tour; even though I have lived in Mumbai all my life.
2. I learned a few humbling things that day. Some very simple things such as street art can actually make a big difference to lives; especially in terms of pride and empowerment. When we visited a few homes the residents were super happy that we had gone to see their homes and walls.
3. I also saw how people live in such constrained spaces and are still content. The houses in Dharavi were even smaller than the bathrooms in many houses but big families of 9-10 people live in it happily. This made me wonder if happiness is actually in simple things in life.
I have done numerous walks and photo-walks in many cities across the globe; but I genuinely feel that this will definitely rank amongst the top 3 unique ones that I have done. The walk was well organized, free of charge and I met some really nice like minded people. Hence I definitely recommend this walk to everyone, even if Dharavi is not possible, please make an effort and just walk around in Bandra to see many of these gorgeous art works.
Though the Mumbai edition of the festival is over they are planning another series in Delhi; this time in February 2015. And here’s me with fingers crossed and hoping to make it there too 🙂