Art Districts

Mahim (E) Art District


2017 - Ongoing

Comprising Dharavi, Matunga Labour Camp, and Shahu Nagar, the region of Mahim (E) is commonly referred to as Dharavi only, one of the largest slums in the world. It is considered unsafe by most Mumbaikars, with a general apprehension at the mention of the area.

Outside the infamy often attached to the area, little do people know that apart from being an active centre of entrepreneurship, Mahim (E) is also the site for thriving leather, pottery, and recycling industries. The close-knit community of residents are multi-ethnic and multi-religious. The underground subcultures of hip-hop and b-boying have also shaped the region's identity.

Beginning in October 2017, we made Mahim (E) the setting for India’s third open-air public art district, after Lodhi in New Delhi and Maqtha in Hyderabad. The idea of an art district in the area played out with the objective of encouraging the city’s citizens, who generally might not venture into Shahu Nagar and Mahim (E), to discover the cultural milieu, and get a chance to engage with its residents.

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 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. Lineup artists for the festival spent time interacting with the local people, and these conversations found visual articulation in the artists’ works. 6 of them chose to employ the technique of portraiture to celebrate the region’s diversity.

Avinash Kumar- Emerging Power of Dharavi. Artist Avinash painted this mural depicting a child rising above the circumstances that encompass him in the slums of Dharavi. He wanted to draw attention to the children of Dharavi, who navigate life’s journey with zeal and ambition, undeterred by their humble beginnings. Employing a dark color palette, the artist pays tribute to these young dreamers, who emerge as winners against the odds, making a mark for themselves in the world.
Zero- The Miracle Nest. Having been part of the local graffiti crews in Mumbai, Zero has contributed heavily towards supporting the young talents of Dharavi who have defined the city’s hip hop culture. Based on these intimate exchanges, Zero created a mural that recognises the neighbourhood as a place of ‘miracles’— a metaphor that aligns with Mahim’s previous name, ‘Mahikavati’. Zero has likened the region to a bird’s nest, perched within which is a boy. Playful and painted in soft colours, the boy waits eagerly for the day when he can fly out on his own terms.
Sajid Wajid- Shahu.One of Sajid’s extremely experimental illustration styles utilises the intrinsic geometry embedded in our lives to create compositions. In the bustling chaos of Mahim, Sajid wanted to scale this style into a mural to create a moment of simplicity and softness. Eventually having created two murals in dialogue with each other, his work depicts the arrival of a king and queen, with their musical instruments, in Shahu Nagar. Sajid’s choice of framing this composition is inspired by Indian miniature paintings.
Sam and halena
The women of Dharavi. 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.
Anpu Reveals Mahim E Art Dist St Art Mumbai 2018 2
Anpu Varkey- Dizzy. In the streets of Shahu Nagar, Anpu painted a mural of a girl hanging upside-down from the branch of a tree, evoking a spirit that reeks of mirth and nostalgic energy. She describes it as “the urge to plunge without any restraint”, and it is this liberated child-like quality of the mural that makes it a delight to behold. It is a remembrance of the inner strength and faith in our abilities that we possess unhindered, as children; the artist hopes to evoke a similar feeling in the hearts of the community.
Miles Toland
Miles Toland- Drop of Sky. Miles brought into focus a representation of the community through the portrait of a woman, who sits calmly on a wall while a cosmic universe unravels around her. The woman’s saree depicts the atmospheric surroundings in the hues of sunset/sunrise, while the clouds emerge from the water in her pot as a manifestation of this cosmos, of which the woman is the centre. Miles places a Mandala in the composition; this symbolizes the cyclical nature of this universe, where everything flourishes but also perishes. This dreamlike landscape represents a symbolic manifestation of Dharavi’s culture, which is seemingly caught in its own unique cosmos, distinct from the rest of the city.
Milo Reveals Mahim E Art Dist St Art Mumbai 2018 2
Milo- Future. In his illustrative and comic style, Italian artist Millo created a dreamy boy holding an imaginary umbrella that reflects Dharavi’s supportive sharing economy. His height extends above the ‘powerful’ vertical buildings of Mumbai. Through this mural, the artist wanted to symbolize that the real wealth of our cities is in ‘sharing’, a quality that encapsulates Dharavi, making it a wealthy neighbourhood. The artist adorned the boy’s umbrella with the flower of marigold, which usually represents passion and creativity. The flower is shown to be disintegrating into the city as a form of sharing joy, color and smiles.
Young Jarus Reveals Mahim E Art Dist St Art Mumbai 2018 2
Young Jarus- Organics. When Jarus visited Mumbai, he wanted to break the image of the city as a ‘concrete jungle’ by depicting someone in direct contact with nature. When he visited Dharavi, he found the perfect subject. Many times misrepresented or under-represented in popular culture, this working class person is caught in an act of daily routine. By balancing light through an attentive usage of color and brush strokes, Jarus makes an otherwise-strenuous task look graceful, consequently highlighting the resilience through which the community tackles any hardship in Dharavi.
Jas Reveals Mahim E Art Dist St Art Mumbai 2018 2
Jas- Untitled. Jas’ mural in Mahim is an illustrative representation of mother nature, who absorbs her surroundings as life flows out of her. To make this concept approachable to the young residents of the neighbourhood, the artist painted a young child who is in complete synchronicity with her surroundings and appears to be beaming with a sense of pure light, love and life. Drawing from the mythological personification of nature, the artist reminds us that women still lead in endeavours that nurture our ecosystem in the modern world.
Ella and Pitr -The Dancing Giants’ Ella and Pitr are known to paint giants - a colossal mass of static, resting humans - on facades in a unique style which makes the public perceive the giants to be stuck within the building. However, for their murals in Dharavi they magnified these giants and illustrated them in their dancing form - free and liberated just like the neighbourhood itself. While the first mural showed two giants dancing together, the second one showed one giant caught tickling the other - a comic relief they had observed between the kids of Shahu Nagar.
Loco Poco - Unitled. Lokesh created an abstract piece in Mahim East, inspired by the sights, sounds and smells that came to his subconscious mind when he first visited the area. It reflects his personal style of simplifying layered and dense forms by using geometric patterns. By scaling this composition style onto a large-scale mural, the artist tried to create a moment of softness for the public, while they stand on a busy street. Through this effort, the artist encourages the viewer to think intuitively and unleash the power of creativity through abstract art.

A densely-populated city like Mumbai is largely defined by its inhabitants. Mahim (E) is one of Mumbai’s most densely-populated areas. However, the stories of its residents have remained on the periphery, with the diversity of a significant portion of the city’s residents being clustered/forced in(to) a box. Today, most pieces in Mahim (E) Art District are inspired by local narratives, together telling its multifaceted story visually.

The stretch containing murals begins on facades located in Shahu Nagar, arriving at 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 subsequent additions more effectively.

Spanish artist Elisa Capdevila’s mural in Shahu Nagar celebrates a local resident she interacted with on her first visit to the area. Her protagonist is a local woman who has lived in the neighbourhood for the last 15 years and resides in a house very close to the mural. Moved by her protagonist’s warmth, hospitality, and her ‘never say die' attitude despite trying circumstances, Elisa created this piece as a tribute not only to the daily resilience of her subject but also to the collective spirit of resilience of the people and women of Dharavi.

Elisa Reveals Mahim E Art Dist St Art Mumbai 2020 Pranav Gohil 2
Elisa Capdevila- Denali. Elisa painted a tribute to a widowed woman who she interacted with while exploring the neighbourhood of Dharavi. The artist was moved by the length at which the woman made her feel welcomed in her home, and consequently in the city. Her personal stories, which encapsulated endurance, resilience and self-sustenance, were a lesson to Elisa, serving to bring her closer to the lives of the women in Dharavi.
Archisha reveal Akash Shukla 5
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.
Guido Van Helten-The Gods of Dharavi.Rendering one of the photographs from his interactions into a mural, the artist painted two boys— Bboy Pro Kid and Bboy Abhishek— framed mid-action in what they do best — bboy. Having captured them in collaboration, which echoes the interconnected communal spirit of Dharavi, Guido’s photo-realistic mural combined two identical walls, making them one. With his sheer talent in photorealism, the mural aims to directly connect with the community, and at the same time celebrate Dharavi as a region of creativity, diversity and passion.

Project Me/We

One of the most crucial elements of the 2020 edition of the Mahim (E) Art District project was the special collaborative project between artist collective Aravani Art Project, Facebook AIR (Artist in Residence) and St+art India, titled ‘Me/We’.

Helmed by Aravani Art Project, ‘Me/We’ was made up of several elements - executed and simultaneously shaped over the course of four weeks across January and February 2020. While in the initial weeks artists from the collective facilitated a series of workshops for and with different communities of Shahu Nagar, the latter weeks of the project saw the creation of two vibrant murals in the Mahim (E) Art District.

Over the years, Aravani has created many large wall mural projects using a participatory approach in cities across the country, including many murals with St+art. The Bangalore-based art collective is known for using art as a means to shape safe spaces for the transgender community in India. Enabling the transgender community to adopt newer ways of reclaiming public spaces, ‘Me/We’, for the first time saw artists from the collective in the role of facilitators for three workshops, which independently explored the themes of kindness, interdependence and co-existence in the ‘megacity’ of Dharavi.

Complementing the ethos of the Facebook Artist-In-Residence program, which aims to build community through art, the mural aspect of the Project was largely informed by the collective’s on ground learnings from the workshops, and the aesthetic of Dharavi at large. It embodied the ideas of kindness, identity, solidarity and belongingness in a community and the visual for its design was arrived at using an interactive process and ultimately represented the different voices of Shahu Nagar.

“We want to create genuine friendships, intangible bonds and of course 'Art' in a seamless way along with our artist friends from the Transgender community. It's not about reclaiming space with a mural, rather encompassing all of its happenings, all day, every day. The project has left us yearning to know more about how something as delicate as human emotions are built over the strongest circumstances. Dharavi is a never-ending real-life novel.”

- Poornima Sukumar, co-founder, Aravani Art Project

In a celebratory affair between talks, performances, participative photo sessions and of course, the community, Project ‘Me/We’ was culminated with an official inauguration of the ‘Kindness Walls’. Through workshops, murals and a final launch event, the project aimed to speak with and sensitise people about the concepts of kindness, co-existence and inclusivity - seeking to truly use art as a tool for positive changes.

Workshop 1: ‘Self-identity within a community

The Me/We project began with an intensive workshop conducted in Shahu Nagar. The participants were the transwomen of the Aravani Art Project and women of SNEHA Foundation, an NGO based in Dharavi that, provides awareness and access to healthcare to victims of domestic violence.

In the first sharing session, the 20 participants shared their stories where the idea of the community came out as a strong, uniform theme. They spoke about how important being in a community was to them and how it, had helped them overcome difficult situations.

To begin the art intervention, they were asked to identify an everyday object that was synonymous to themselves and therefore used as an identifier. These objects were then drawn and painted and then translated into a stencil. This activity allowed the participants to do large-scale drawings while understanding the stencil's technique. Then they sprayed painted these symbols in different parts of Shahu Nagar, leaving their identities across Dharavi.
The workshop also explored the basics of wall painting, beginning with the creation of the community mural, as, an extension to the final two walls.

Workshop 2 – 'Gender roles and self-esteem'

This 3 day workshop was conducted in Sant Kakkya Marg School, Dharavi. The participants were students of the 8th grade. It was facilitated by women of Kranti, an organization for survivors and families of sex workers in one of Mumbai's biggest prostitution areas. The workshop focused on the idea of self and self image for an age where change is a constant.

After a brief ice breaking session, the students were asked to draw how they see themselves. To challenge general portraiture, they were asked to complete their portraits using cloth strips, collected from around, Dharavi. This gave them the opportunity to create a visual identity for themselves using prints, textures and colours, elements that belong to their daily visuals and environment in view to reconcile with it as well as stimulating a sense of belonging. The transwomen from Aravani, were part of the process facilitating the activity in a 360° integration.
The final portraits were displayed alongside the objects symbols of Workshop 1 on the community wall in Shahu Nagar.

Workshop Arvani Art Project Mahim E Art Dist St Art Mumbai 2020 Pranav Gohil 12

Workshop 3 – ‘Everyday Dharavi’

This workshop served as a public art activation space, where the open-to-all format of the workshop allowed for the general public/passer by of Shahu Nagar to interact with the artists of Aravani and short, art and craft interventions. This workshop also served as a conversation tool to build the composition for the final artworks of the murals.
The workshops were tailored to suit different age groups, with a younger audience doing activities like colouring, drawing and making paper collages and pinwheels. The older people experimented with activities like screen printing and story-telling.
The art activities also acted as a tool to build a conversation with people about their ideas of kindness and empathy and how they lived and functioned as a community in Dharavi. The main questions asked were “What are acts of kindness that have impacted you, what acts of kindness do you wish to see, and what do you like about living in Dharavi”,
These stories were collected on postcards and artworks were added to the stories in drawing sessions with the kids.

The Kindness Walls, by Aravani Art Project

The twin murals, located at the Dharavi-Shahu Nagar passageway, are made up of several elements which depict small moments of kindness one encounters in a close-knit community setting - like a conversation shared across windows, a friendly smile while rushing for work, lazing dogs, balloon sellers, and swinging down a basket for time management amongst others. Largely inspired by visuals the collective observed in Dharavi, the murals also contribute to the founding ethos of the Mahim (E) Art District, which since its beginning in 2014 has focused on celebrating the numerous facets that characterize the area and its lifeline – its people.

Me/ We- The text in the mural reads, “Karunyacha kimat nahi” which translates from Marathi to "it costs nothing to be kind”. The saying putting together the essence of the project which explored how communities functions and the essence to which is kindness and empathy towards each other.

Celebration Day - 8th February

Celebration Day included a panel discussion led by Sadhna Prasad, Co-founder of the Aravani Art Project on topics of community-living and creating art in public spaces, poetry performances by gender-free arts organisation Anat Speaks, performances by beatboxers and rappers Rahul, Nexus and Paul, creating a perfect celebration of street culture and the Me/We project. Trans women from the collective, also performed a 'laavani' dance performance, as well as a very special ‘Koli dance’ performance on Inauguration Day. The event ended with a collective photo session against the backdrop of the Kindness Walls, with the honourable Ms Varsha Gaikwad, Cabinet Minister, Maharashtra, who had also graced the celebration with her presence.