An exhibition of paintings and mixed media works by Delhi-based artist Meera Devidayal, due to open on April 28 at Chemould Prescott Road gallery in Fort, has Mumbai’s mills as its theme. Titled “A Terrible Beauty”, the exhibition also has works that depict Shakti Mills, made infamous by the gang rapes of a telephone operator and a photojournalist last year.
While Mumbai’s defunct mills are currently a subject of much debate and controversy, the artist takes a hopeful look, imagining them as a part of paradise. “Part of our city map and history in the yesteryears, they are in ruins today. Would they continue to be in this state tomorrow? Or will they evolve into a grander space? My work sees them in the latter state.”
So, in contrast to its current state, Shakti Mills in Devidayal’s painting stands in a meadow of red and yellow tulips. “A tulip is a metaphor I use for aspiration,” she explains. “Once, the mills were grand structures that led the city to development and progress, fulfilling the aspirations of hundreds of mill workers. Today, these mills are nothing but rubble. The unfortunate incident of the rape has added the ‘forbidden’ tag to the neglected structure.”
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The 67-year-old artist’s work on the mills began in 2000. On Sundays, she would walk the abandoned mills, armed with her camera. She had, in fact, spent a large part of her time photographing Shakti Mills, which was more easily accessible back then. A decade later, in 2010, when she looked at those pictures again, she decided to revisit the mills. “On these visits, I noticed that the dilapidated mills, overrun by weeds and covered in moss, had turned into jungles. What I saw had a strong hold over me,” says Devidayal.
The photographs became a starting point for her works, which include paintings, installations and mixed media. While some pictures show the mills amidst fountains and gardens, others take a lighter look at their current state. Take for instance an artwork where a mill’s loom shed serves as a cricket field.
Devidayal says the idea is not to romanticise the ruins. “I’m showing you what I see when I look at the ruins – their rediscovery, renewal and rebirth. I hope people see it too,” she says. The artist says the works also present a philosophical view, commenting on life cycles of structures. “ For instance, some of our most favourite structures in the city today appear so grand, so prominent. But it makes one wonder about their state in the next fifty years,” she says.