Project 'Me/We'

Mahim (E), Mumbai


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 onground 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.

Workshop 1: ‘Self-identity within a community’

The first workshop was a collaborative effort between volunteers from Sneha Foundation and artists from the Aravani Art Project. Based on the model of collective sharing of experiences, the workshop sought to probe the concept of identity – of the individual and the self in a community, using the means of storytelling and visual arts. Spread across four days, the workshop engaged with middle-aged women from Dharavi.

Objects can represent different things for different people, sometimes going beyond their literal meaning. For the workshop, participants were encouraged to think of an object that defined them or was representative of their identity. Once identified, participants made stencils out of these objects which were then painted on a wall in the neighbourhood.

Workshop 2 – ‘Empathy and kindness’

For the second workshop, everyday between 5 - 6 pm, for ten days, the collective set up a table in the neighborhood with stationery, opening it to everyone passing by – including children, women and men of all ages, to collectively create small collages, letters, stories, postcards and screen printing on cloth, around the topic of kindness.

Outcomes, compositions, perspectives and the numerous stories created and acquired during this workshop will form the basis of a special community wall the collective plans to activate in the area, with help from its residents.

Poornima Sukumar, co-founder, Aravani Art Project said, “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 a space with a mural, rather encompassing all of its happenings, all day, everyday. 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.”

Workshop 3 – ‘Gender roles and self esteem’

The third and last workshop was conducted with class 8 students of Santa Kaikakya Municipal School in Dharavi. Through two self-portrait making sessions spread over 4 days, the workshop engaged the students in conversation around the topics of self-esteem, gender roles and aspirations. While the first session of drawing dealt with questions rooted in the present (how do you see yourself? Where do you see yourself? What do you want to achieve in the next year?), asking the kids to make self-portraits on paper, the second session placed focus on aspiration, encouraging the students to make self-portraits using different kinds of materials – cloth, paper, thread etc, enabling them to express themselves more vividly, and including a letter-writing activity to their future selves.

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The Kindness Walls

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.

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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.

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.