Sassoon Dock Art Project

Located in and centered around the 144-year-old site of Mumbai’s Sassoon Docks, in its 7th edition the St+art festival organised one of its biggest projects till date - the Sassoon Dock Art Project. Featuring the dock as its main protagonist, the project worked with 33 national and international artists to create an experiential exhibition at the location that was open to the public for 50 days.

Constructed in 1875, Sassoon Docks is one of the oldest docks in the city of Mumbai. One out of the handful of remaining docks that are open to public, Sassoon is also one of Mumbai’s largest fish markets. Despite its immense significance in the city’s landscape, most Mumbaikers had never set foot inside the area. The exhibition sought to reintroduce the area to its city in a novel manner. Nestled at the tip of Colaba, the dock was transformed into an urban art exhibition that remapped the DNA of the city of Mumbai for two months. It was an attempt to help the city’s residents understand and take note of the cultural and historical significance of the space.

The exhibition hosted artists to create installations, audio-visual experiences, murals, screenings and curated tours that were site-specific. Inspiration was derived from local stories, cultures and histories. Materials available in abundance at the site - fishnets, the smell and sight of fish, and colour amongst other things, were then used for the execution of artworks, most of which featured the dock prominently.

Before entering the main venue of the exhibition, visitors were greeted with the sight of more than 150 larger-than-life-size black and white portraits, pasted on the façade of the main building. The monochrome photo blowups of portraits featured the dock’s resident Koli, Banjara and Hindu Maratha fishing communities. The project was St+art’s contribution to iconic French photographer and artist JR’s global participatory Inside Out Project.

The global Inside Out Project celebrates identity and amplifies untold stories with the means of large scale paste-up of monochrome portraits. The Inside Out Project at Sassoon Docks employed the same means to bring to the forefront the very important stories of the original settlers of Mumbai - its fishermen communities. It strived to celebrate the lives, identities and contributions of the diverse fishermen communities of Sassoon Docks.

Upon entering the location, the visitor first came face-to-face with designer and visual artist Hanif Kureshi’s ‘The Idea of Smell’. For the installation, locally-sourced nylon fishnets were suspended from the ceiling and were then woven with words and phrases such as ‘train’, ‘mom’s cooking’, ‘blanket on a cold winter’s night’ and ‘engine oil’ amidst others. Paying homage to the numerous sights, smells and histories that got invoked on one’s visit to Sassoon, Kureshi’s piece attempted to immerse its spectators in a trail of emotions that surfaces on the mention of a certain smell. Through his work, he also hoped to achieve a larger understanding of the intersection of language with thought.

More than 1500 trawlers work at the docks, bringing in around 20 tons of fish everyday. Over 150,000 people depend on the docks for their daily livelihood. Australian artist Guido Van Helten spent three days taking portrait shots of the fisherfolk present at the dock. He then immortalised three women he had spent time with on facades at the dock that overlooked a primary space.

Numerous other artists used narratives and sights offered by the space to inspire their artworks. While artist Poornima and Sadhna were inspired by the plenitude of colour in the area for their piece, graphic-designer Sameer Kulavoor used the site’s characteristic smell to conceptualise his piece.

Crucial to the lifeline of the economy at Sassoon Docks is Mumbai’s sea. The exhibition also hosted artworks that engaged with the burgeoning problem of plastic-dumping in and around the sea.