Mumbai slum holds art biennale

Updated 14 February 2015
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Mumbai slum holds art biennale

MUMBAI: The Mumbai neighborhood made famous by the film “Slumdog Millionaire” is set to host its first “biennale,” aiming to promote health through creativity, although it will be very different to some of the world’s grander art fairs.
The three-week festival, opening Sunday, will showcase works created by residents of Dharavi, the densely populated settlement in the heart of India’s financial capital that is known as one of Asia’s biggest slums.
From hand-painted pots arranged to show how sexually transmitted diseases spread, to a quilted map marking known locations of domestic violence, the Dharavi Biennale is designed to raise awareness without being “preachy,” say the organizers.
But they also want to celebrate the neighborhood itself, home to an estimated 750,000 people from all over India, which has been held up over the years as a symbol of both grimy destitution and flourishing industry.
“What we see is that Dharavi is sitting on a lot of wealth and a lot of talent and art that gets missed out when you want to show squalor and slum,” said festival co-director Nayreen Daruwalla.
Britain’s Prince Charles in 2010 cited Dharavi as a role model for sustainable living, praising its habit of recycling waste and the “order and harmony” of the community, in contrast to Western countries’ “fragmented” housing estates.
Guided tours around Dharavi’s mini-factories — producing all manner of goods from clothes to pottery — are now a popular tourist attraction, while initiatives such as the SlumGods, a group of hip-hop street dancers, have challenged outsiders’ negative perceptions.
But the difficulties facing the community remain stark, and “there is a danger of going to the other side and romanticizing,” said Daruwalla, pointing out the cramped conditions, poor ventilation and lack of toilets.
With such issues in mind, the Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action (SNEHA) held an exhibition in Dharavi two years ago called “Dekha Undekha” (“Seen Unseen“), aiming to foster discussion, through art, about themes such as sanitation and maternal health.
Its success led SNEHA to develop the biennale, a more ambitious project funded by the British charity Wellcome Trust, which culminates in the exhibitions and events this month at various locations across Dharavi’s maze of alleyways.
Aside from being held every other year, the festival has little in common with some of the world’s better known art fairs, said co-director David Osrin, who in a presentation this month described the name as “slightly a joke, and slightly ideological.”
“The spirit and the way that our biennale is structured is very, very different,” he told AFP.
While other festivals simply ask artists to submit works, the focus in Mumbai has been on participation with Dharavi residents, particularly through workshops led by “mentor” artists.
The results include the “Immunity Wall,” a depiction of the body’s immune system using recycled materials and everyday items: red hair bobbles for red cells, scouring pads for B cells and flexi bracelets as antibodies.
Another exhibit uses traditional block-prints on cloth to illustrate the various levels of depression, a problem thought to be widespread but under-diagnosed in Mumbai’s slums.
Thousands are expected to attend the exhibitions over the coming weeks, but social scientists will be conducting surveys to try and assess the festival’s qualitative impact as well as footfall.
However much it raises health awareness, the biennale appears to be boosting morale among Dharavi’s residents, such as student Saraswati Bhandare, 21, who helped to create giant puppets for the opening show about tuberculosis.
“People think this is just a slum area where we aren’t educated, but the truth is that it’s a place where so many talents come together. We’re proud to be from Dharavi,” she said.


Drunk on smoke: Notre Dame’s bees survive cathedral blaze

Updated 20 April 2019
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Drunk on smoke: Notre Dame’s bees survive cathedral blaze

PARIS: Hunkered down in their hives and drunk on smoke, Notre Dame’s smallest official residents — some 180,000 bees — somehow managed to survive the inferno that consumed the cathedral’s ancient wooden roof.
Confounding officials who thought they had perished, the bees clung to life, protecting their queen.
“It’s a big day. I am so relieved. I saw satellite photos that showed the three hives didn’t burn,” Notre Dame beekeeper Nicolas Geant told The Associated Press on Friday.
“Instead of killing them, the CO2 (from smoke) makes them drunk, puts them to sleep,” he explained.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Geant has overseen the bees since 2013, when three hives were installed on the roof of the stone sacristy that joins the south end of the monument. The move was part of a Paris-wide initiative to boost declining bee numbers. Hives were also introduced above Paris’ gilded Opera.
The cathedral’s hives were lower than Notre Dame’s main roof and the 19th-century spire that burned and collapsed during Monday evening’s fire.
Since bees don’t have lungs, they can’t die from smoke inhalation — but they can die from excessive heat. European bees, unlike some bee species elsewhere, don’t abandon their hives when facing danger.
“When bees sense fire, they gorge themselves on honey and stay to protect their queen, who doesn’t move,” Geant said. “I saw how big the flames were, so I immediately thought it was going to kill the bees. Even though they were 30 meters (nearly 100 feet) lower than the top roof, the wax in the hives melts at 63 degrees Celsius (145.4 Fahrenheit).”

Notre Dame Cathedral’s three beehives — home to more than 180,000 bees  — survived the destructive fire. (Instagram/Beeopic)

If the wax that protects their hive melts, the bees simply die inside, Geant explained.
Smoke, on the other hand, is innocuous. Beekeepers regularly smoke out the hives to sedate the colony whenever they need access inside. The hives produce around 75 kilograms (165 pounds) of honey annually, which is sold to Notre Dame employees.
Notre Dame officials saw the bees on top of the sacristy Friday, buzzing in and out of their hives.
“I wouldn’t call it a miracle, but I’m very, very happy,” Geant added.