The exhibition “The Shifting City” is part of a project called ‘Making Heimat. Germany Arrival Country’, presented at the Venice Biennale in 2016. The touring exhibition that stopped in Mumbai has been produced by the Goethe Institut, Max Mueller Bhavan, Mumbai, in collaboration with Architecture Foundation. The project focussing on “Making Heimat” (making home) investigates the urban, architectural, and social conditions of arrival in cities — how strangers who come to cities in search of life, livelihood, safety, and alter the way the city works, and the way they live.
Architect-academic Kaiwan Mehta, who has curated the exhibition, says, “This is not imagined as an art exhibition, it’s more of an urban history study working through the art on display. The show is about the ‘Arrived-In’ city. When people come to Mumbai, they feel they have arrived at the cultural and financial global city. Be it the malls we frequent or the Ola/Uber that has changed the way we use the kaali-peeli taxis, the question is who is the new migrant? It’s not just the poor who come for jobs, but also that fresh graduate from a smaller town who has come for a job in call centre. There is a demand of a lifestyle; where will they shop and socialise? For instance, the large malls in these small residential areas become the new fabricated urban spaces, and with that, what are the new forms of public behaviour?”
With six artists and two urban studies projects, the exhibition turns into a conversation about the city and its migrants. With paintings, photographs, and academic studies on urban renewal and housing, the show presents Mumbai as a city of arrival, and what it means to live there. We talk to three artists on their exhibits and the stories behind them.
I had about three weeks to work on Public Matters, where I scanned malls and cafes to understand migrant behaviour. Most of them settle in the western side of Bombay, so I visited Oberoi Mall in Goregaon and Infiniti Mall in Malad. I did about 44 drawings on-site, in these new urban public spaces, where newcomers to the city hang out. While they may be plugged into a global network, it has altered their local relationships. It wasn’t unusual to find youngsters with headphones on, oblivious of everything around them. Since Mumbai has the largest entertainment industry, the cafes had scriptwriters, musicians and stand-up comics, for whom these are places of conversation and business; it becomes a shared workspace.
I presented a reproduction of my 2014 work, Mumbai Proverbs. Through seven panels, I have depicted Bombay in its different periods, from colonial times to present day. There’s a section on mill workers, people in local trains, the new highrises in the middle of slums, and the flourish of IT centres. Migrants from all over India come and make the city their own, and by the second or third generation, it’s their home. What kind of adjustments do they make? Mumbai, for many, is about highrises and flyovers, but there’s a rhythm to the city in which everyone participates.
As a journalist and photographer who documents the everyday, I capture the relationship between people and places, and people and objects in Mumbai Darshan. Once a person makes the city his/her own, they become the constant while the backdrop keeps changing. The “I Love Mumbai” sign, to me, is the most obnoxious ‘public art’. It has a collage of bandages stuck to it, clearly because people must have damaged it. The angle from where I stood to take the photo, it seemed in the reflection that someone was taking a selfie. And to me that was a definite comment on the way people engage with the city. I was once told, nobody loves Bombay, they use Bombay.
The exhibition is on till June 8