American artist Joel Bergner's art work to be displayed this weekend in Mumbai

American artist Joel Bergner is in Mumbai, bringing his trademark style to a giant art work to be displayed this weekend in the city

Sitara studio sits at the shoulder of a lane dense with human and vehicular traffic at Lower Parel. Once inside this studio, the hurly-burly of commerce seem to fall away to be replaced by a bohemian vibe. The venue is haunt of artists, poets and performers, all looking at the city through their unique and different prisms.

Young artists work as Bergner supervises
Young artists work as Bergner supervises

On a visit to the studio, we see American artist Joel Bergner in the midst of his project, one of several on his current India visit. He has been working on a number of projects in Delhi and Mumbai. This particular one, being done under his supervision, is a giant mural painting which will be showcased at the Kala Ghoda Fair this weekend.

Joel Bergner (r) with his wife, Karla Jayne Thomas at Sitara Studio in Lower Parel. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
Joel Bergner (r) with his wife, Karla Jayne Thomas at Sitara Studio in Lower Parel. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

In Mumbai
When we meet Bergner, he is concentrating hard at the painting, smears on hands and face, his jeans looking like a denim canvas itself, full of paint. The floor of the room where the mural is being painted, is littered with art paraphernalia. Bergner is overseeing the work of a group of young women artists, who are wielding brushes. working on the theme of women’s empowerment. Bergner has sketched a part of the 40-feet wide mural, which will eventually be dismantled, carried through the doors of the studio, hoisted on to a truck and put up at the Kala Ghoda venue, in time for the festival which begins from February 6.

Bergner sips from a glass of chai for this chat, looking at ease, juggling culture and canvas. This peripatetic artist, whose work takes from and reflects the cultural fabric of the place, spends time actually living and working in the communities where his projects take place. “I have been in Delhi and Mumbai for a month now,” says Bergner. “For me, it is always about getting to know a place through its people. In Mumbai, I am happy to have worked on projects in places like Marol, Andheri not doing the typical touristy stuff,” laughs Bergner.

Women’s voices
Through his work, he has met people who cut through social strata. Since much of his work deals with gender issues and gender violence specifically, he has met young women from different demographics here. He says, “All their problems are not the same. For instance, from a certain section, I got responses like that the older girls could not go to school because they had to look after their younger siblings; from others it was harassment on the streets. In fact, the latter was an overriding motif here,” said Bergner.

The artist, who speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese fluently and has studied basic Arabic and Swahili, breaks down walls through art. Post his India visit, he is going to Israel, (Jerusalem), where he says, “I will bring together young Israelis and Palestinians in art workshops. These youngsters who are taught to see each other as the ‘enemy’ and have been dehumanised by both sides, will learn more than art in these workshops. They will learn that there is a universality of human experience, and we have more similarities than differences.

“I have also held workshops for Syrian refugees, and worked with some very talented artists there, in Jordan,” says the young man, who believes in the power of the palette and the stroke of a paintbrush to transform lives and give voice to disturbing, provocative and profound truths.

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