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.


Keira Knightley film calls for unity in divided times

Updated 19 February 2019
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Keira Knightley film calls for unity in divided times

  • The film is set during the reconstruction of post WWII Germany
  • The port city of Hamburg suffered a devastating bombing raid by the Allied forces in July 1943

LONDON: Keira Knightley said her new film “The Aftermath,” set in the bombed-out ruins of Hamburg just after the end of the Second World War, had important lessons on building bridges that were very relevant for today’s divided societies.
The romantic drama sees Knightley play Rachael Morgan, who moves to Germany to be with her husband, a British colonel who has a leading role in the reconstruction effort in Hamburg. They move in with a German widower and his troubled daughter.
Her co-stars, Australian Jason Clarke who plays her husband Lewis and Swedish Alexander Skarsgard, who plays a German architect also attended the world premiere at London’s Picturehouse Central on Monday.
“It’s very relevant for now. It’s about building bridges, it’s about how we see each other as human beings and we don’t demonize each other and that’s obviously something that we need to do right now,” Knightley said.
The port city of Hamburg suffered a devastating bombing raid by the Allied forces in July 1943, known as “Operation Gomorrah,” that killed some 40,000 people and caused the destruction of swathes of the city.
“I knew nothing about the rebuilding of Germany ... I haven’t thought about how unbelievably difficult it must have been to not only physically rebuild these places but also mentally for English and German people ... who had been enemies, who had literally killed each other for six years, to suddenly forgive and move forward,” Knightley said.
Clarke said: “We’ve benefited so much from the Lewis Morgans who put Europe together ... guys like him built it up and made Germany and Europe what it is today, we all stand on the threshold of wanting to tear it down.”
“The Aftermath” opens in cinemas in Britain on March 1, and in the United States on March 15.