Using textiles as a backdrop,an ongoing exhibition explores questions of labour,colonialism,capital,trade and politics.
Many years ago,areas in central Mumbai now called Parel,Byculla and those around them were collectively known as Girangaon and housed more than 100 textile mills,primarily cotton. In Marathi,the word Girangaon literally translates to the village of mills. Workers came from various parts of the state and lived in one-room tenements while they worked in these mills. However,after the Great Bombay Textile Strike of 1982,the number of these mills dwindled rapidly and not very long after,became the malls and restaurants that we know them as today.
Located not many feet away from the erstwhile Girangaon,Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla East presents an exhibition titled Social Fabric which,among other things,explores the impact the international textile trade had on our local mills and workers. The show centres around two works a 2001 painting by the Mumbai-based artist Sudhir Patwardhan titled Lower Parel and an installation by the German artist Alice Creischer titled Apparatus for the Osmotic Compensation of the Pressure of Wealth during the Contemplation of Poverty while UK-based Celine Condorelli features alongside. Mumbai-based Archana Handes paintings on scrolls,which are also part of the exhibition,show the progression (and simultaneous degradation) of India over the years as it developed.
For many years,Patwardhan has been closely associated with the plight of the mill workers,having lived in the Lower Parel area when he first moved to Mumbai from Pune,at a time when the mills were still flourishing. While little continues to be said about the mills,the artist believes the exhibition has great relevance. There are lots of struggling groups of people and their work (or lack of it) needs to be highlighted. That is one of the things the exhibition is doing, he says.
That Lower Parel was done in 2001 implies that it depicts the area from that day,which is in a stark contrast to what it has become today. It shows people mulling about on the streets,standing before a large building and a bridge,appearing lost,so to speak. When I first moved to Mumbai,I used to depict the working class, he says,adding,After the strike (of 1982),my interest has been to depict what happened to these people,and the painting shows what they were doing then (in 2001).
While Patwardhans work draws from his personal experiences,Creischers is a global look at the economy and colonialism. The formers painting is accompanied by a number of newspaper cut-outs and images of the strike,mill workers,the mills of yesteryear and the Lower Parel of today. The latters installation includes sheets explaining the relevance of the work which viewers are recommended to read so as to not be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information the work puts forth.
Before progressing into the rooms of the museum that house these exhibits,however,viewers would do well to first take a look at the exhibit on the ground floor samples from the Collections of the Textiles Manufactures of India by Forbes Watson,part of the museums collection. In the second half of the 19th century,Watson was a reporter on the Products of India at the India Museum in London,which meant his job was to catalogue Indian products. Comprising 18 volumes,the collection documents perhaps every sort of textile that was available in India at the time.
In 1855,samples of these various textiles were collected and put on display in Paris at the Paris International Exhibition with an aim to create awareness about Indian textiles. It was after this that the British began bringing industrially manufactured,and thereby cheaper fabric into India,severely hampering the efforts of the Indian workers. They did so in other colonies,too,similarly affecting the efforts of local workers.