Delhi

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Installations

The Night Shelter Project

In 2015, as part of the third edition of the St+Art Festival, St+art India Foundation collaborated with Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) to create a unique project. The project aimed at shedding light on the problem of homelessness in the city, while highlighting a novel program initiated by the government – that of the provision of night shelters (rain baseras) in the city. The project entailed a series of art interventions on these shelters dispersed across the capital.

A ‘rain basera’ is a government-supported night shelter where homeless people are offered bedding, quilts and a sense of security. These are usually single-storied structures made of blue tin that can house 15-20 people on an average. The shelters provide one of the very few safe spaces for the homeless in the city. In a city like Delhi, where temperatures in winter at times drop to single digits and cause several deaths every year, these shelters acquire a very important objective to serve.

A scene from the rain basera at Sarai Kale Khan // The homeless shelter before artist Olek’s installation

A ‘rain basera’ is a government-supported night shelter where homeless people are offered bedding, quilts and a sense of security. These are usually single-storied structures made of blue tin that can house 15-20 people on average. The shelters provide one of the very few safe spaces for the homeless in the city. In a city like Delhi, where temperatures in winter at times drop to single digits and cause several deaths every year, these shelters acquire a very important objective to serve.

Amongst the 250 ‘rain baseras’ in the city, 3 saw an art intervention with the aim of creating a more positive environment for the homeless to live in. The biggest was done by Polish artist Olek who worked on a crochet installation. Over the period of one month, Olek engaged with 40 women across socioeconomic classes to create a 9000 meters-long fabric installation.

Work on the project began months prior to Olek coming to the country, with our team sharing dimensions and research about the scope of the project with her. On ground, Olek wanted to work with different communities of women to produce an artwork that would be created by women, for women. To achieve this, we activated our extensive networks through social media callouts and word of mouth to link up with various organisations and individuals. From the ’Sewing New Futures’ NGO which empowers women forced into sex-trafficking earn alternative revenue by providing skill-based training to a group of Afghani women refugees settled in Delhi, to the crochet community of India and housewives interested in the art form - the demographic of engagement was widespread.

Olek Crochet Installation Final Pranav Mehta 1
PUM 6066 Pranav Mehta

Olek is a New York-based artist of Polish origin who works with crochet to give visibility to everyday objects and people. She has done notable projects like the New York stock exchange bull and crocheted artwork in front of the Virginia MOCA.

Work on the project began months prior to Olek coming to the country, with our team sharing dimensions and research about the scope of the project with her. On the ground, Olek wanted to work with different communities of women to produce an artwork that would be created by women, for women. To achieve this, we activated our extensive networks through social media callouts and word of mouth to link up with various organisations and individuals. From the ’Sewing New Futures’ NGO which empowers women forced into sex trafficking earn alternative revenue by providing skill-based training to a group of Afghani women refugees settled in Delhi, to the crochet community of India and housewives interested in the art form - the demographic of engagement was widespread.

Olek WP 9

A temporary workshop was created in South Extension for the project. Olek used this space to teach the women different techniques of crochet. Because the night shelter had a large surface to cover, a workflow was created where the volunteers would create smaller pieces of the composition including the hearts, flowers and butterflies. Olek would then crochet those pieces together to build the overall art piece. Over a period of three weeks, 60 people worked together to create a 40 x 20 x 8-foot installation that used 9,000 meters of fabric in total.

Olek night shelter
Caption: The 9,000 mts of fabric was sourced from various places - a majority of it coming from donations by renowned designers such as Tarun Tahiliani and Manish Arora, while some was sourced from Old Delhi.

After three weeks of non-stop work and a healthy portion of panic, it was finally time to install the piece. The Rain Basera in Sarai Kale Khan was chosen for its location that promised large visibility. A high-visibility area ensured a wide range of exposure for the installation. Located next to one of the biggest bus terminals of the city, the Rain Basera was seen by thousands of people every day.

With the support of several volunteers who worked for over 4 hours, the exterior of the shelter was transformed into bona fide artwork that invited passerby to stop and take notice.

Public reaction upon the unveiling of the installation varied but was always tinged with a general sense of curiosity and positivity. While some people said that the shelter looked like a bride, others felt that the installation would finally put the ‘Rain Basera’ project on the map.

People's reactions / comments

The installation stood in place for a month during which it drew a lot of local and international media attention. Through the intervention, the larger aim of creating something that would positively impact the living conditions of the homeless in these shelters was achieved.

We would like to thank the Polish Institute New Delhi, Allkraftz and USHA International for supporting this mammoth project. We’d also like to extend a special vote of thanks to designers Tarun Tahiliani & Manish Arora for donating fabric for the project.

We would like to thank the Polish Institute New Delhi, Allkraftz and USHA International for supporting this mammoth project. We’d also like to extend a special vote of thanks to designers Tarun Tahiliani & Manish Arora for donating fabric for the project.

In continuation of the project, two other shelters were painted, one each in Lajpat Nagar and Kashmere Gate. These were done by Indian artists - Painter Shabbu and graffiti artist PCO.

Painter Shabbu’s piece consists of the whole structure being painted with typography and reads out the poem ‘Home Sweet Home’ since the shelter acts as a home for several people.
PCO worked through the night to create a beautiful piece with aluminium tape which consists of two hands, joining to form a heart. The artist wanted to evoke a feeling of comfort and affection amongst the residents of the shelter.

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