Mahim (E) Art District

In October 2017, the region of Mahim (E) in Mumbai city became the setting for work to begin in India’s third open-air public art district. Indian and international artists were invited to contribute with artworks to the areas of Dharavi, Matunga Labour Camp and Shahu Nagar - together forming Mahim (E).

Work in Mahim (E) began during the second edition of the St+art Festival, as part of St+art Mumbai 2014. The Festival’s first chapter in the city had involved the creation of pieces both big and small in Mumbai’s various locales, with an extended focus on the region of Dharavi. Having engaged with the area previously, we were able to gauge the feasibility of situating a large-scale project in the neighbourhood. Response to the earlier artworks was terrific, encouraging us to conceptualise making additions to them.

Artist Gomez's piece in Dharavi, 2014, that laid the founding stone for the Mahim (E) Art District

Many of us know Dharavi as one of the largest slums in the world. Thought of in its entirety as Dharavi, the region of Mahim (E) is considered unsafe by most Mumbaikers, with a general sense of apprehension engulfing any mention of the area. The idea of an ‘art district’ in the region was executed with the objective of encouraging the city’s citizens - who generally might not venture into Shahu Nagar and Mahim (E) - to both discover its cultural milieu and get a chance to engage with its people. Most pieces in the Art District took inspiration from narratives local to the region.

Alongside being an active centre of entrepreneurship, Mahim (E) is the site for thriving leather, pottery and recycling industries. Its close-knit community of residents is multi-ethnic and multi-religious. The underground subcultures of hip-hop and bboying have also begun shaping the identity of the region.

A densely-populated city like Mumbai is largely defined by its inhabitants. Mahim (E) is one of Mumbai’s most densely-populated areas but the stories of its residents remained on the periphery - with the diversity of a significant portion of the city’s residents being clustered/forced in(to) a box. The lineup artists for the festival spent time interacting with the locality’s populace and these conversations found visual articulation in the artists’ work. 6 of them chose to employ the technique of portraiture to celebrate the region’s diverse population.

Artist Avinash painted a mural depicting a child rising above the circumstances that surround him in Dharavi. The child is shown emerging above the chaos and difficulties he is surrounded by to make a mark for himself in the world. Through the mural, Avinash wanted to draw attention to the children of Dharavi, who are moving the world forward with ambition and fame despite coming from humble beginnings.

The aim of St+art Mumbai 2017 was to connect modern areas of Mumbai that seemed distant from one another but shared the same origin. Artworks in Mahim (E) were curated with an aim to (re)introduce the area and its people to the city of Mumbai. By encouraging citizens to explore the area on their own, the creation of an art district in the neighbourhood sought to unhinge it from notions of perceived danger and include it in the larger narrative of the city.

Pragyesh, based on his experiences with the people of Mahim, created this mural which draws from the history of Mahim (Mahikavati). He depicts the image of a boy, associated metaphorically with a bird’s nest, who just like the bird learns to fly on his own, along with the daily struggles and passion to learn and grow. The background is painted in identifiable silhouettes of the many lanes of Mahim.

The stretch containing the murals began on facades located in Shahu Nagar, arriving till the 60 Feet Road. The first artwork in the stretch is visible to the viewer right upon exiting the Mahim Railway Station - one that forms the gateway to enter Dharavi. Having a preliminary understanding of the geography and architecture of the neighbourhood from our first experience in the city gave us a map to conceptualise and organise the additions more effectively.

Using different stylistic approaches, artists engaged with the diverse facets of and stakeholders in the local narrative. While artists Avinash and Guido Van Helten worked using the motif of children representing a better future for the region, the artist duo of Sam & Helena paid an ode to the locality’s female workforce. Artist Pragyesh used the history of the region to inspire his artwork, whereas artist Sajid depicted in his mural hope for its future.

Through his work, Sydney-based artist Guido Van Helten likes to build on the context of the spaces he works within. Having met Aku from the Slumdogs crew - a collective empowering children in the region by teaching them elements of hip-hop, during the Sassoon Docks Art Project, Helten spent some time in Dharavi making photographs and understanding the space more. Aku and his friends helped him gain him a first-hand sense of the vibrant street culture of Dharavi. The artist decided he wanted to paint two boys - Bboy Pro kid and Bboy Abhishek - framed mid-action doing what they do best - dance in his mural. His photorealistic piece adorns two buildings on Jasmine Mill Road in the Mahim (E) Matunga Labour Camp.

Artist’s Sam & Helena’s mural depicts a young girl who lived in one of the homes next to the wall and a woman working in the pottery trade, living just around the corner. The duo wanted to celebrate the female workforce of Dharavi --where on top of being homemakers, mothers and wives women are often contending in physically or mentally demanding jobs alongside men.

The murals were reflective of the emerging and contemporary face of Dharavi, which is a far cry from the skewed inaccurate image that is portrayed to the rest of the world.

This mural created by artist Sajid Wajid depicts the arrival of a great king, meant to symbolise the arrival of good times. With a king portrayed on the left, musical celebrations upon his arrival can be seen painted on the right. Here, music is also symbolic for restoration of harmony. The two walls seem to be having a dialogue as they complement each other with the royal blue color - used again to symbolise honesty and trustworthiness, elegance, riches, and sophistication.

Archisha Mahime Art Dist Start Mumbai 2017 1

Indian artist Archita Shah also painted the walls behind a vada pav stall owned by one Mr. Chandrakant. Her mural pays ode to the vada pav, which according to the artist, is the life line for all Mumbaikars, irrespective of their backgrounds.

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