On November 24, all roads in Dharavi led to Colour Box, the new workshop and exhibition hub that opened its doors out of a rented potters’ two-storeyed home. It was conceptualised by David Osrin, a pediatrician and public health researcher; Nayreen Daruwalla, who has a doctorate in social psychology; DipeshThakker, who has a background in finance and Benita Fernando, the communications co-ordinator and writer for the Dharavi Biennale.
Fernando explains how the idea took shape, “Having worked closely with communities in Dharavi for over a decade, we realised that there wasn’t an exhibition space to showcase their talent, in the area. This coincided with our search for a gallery and workshop space for the Dharavi Biennale, where artists can work, experiment, collaborate and hold exhibitions of their artworks made from recycled materials. So, Colour Box is a space for our initiative as well as for artists in and beyond Dharavi. It is an ‘improperly proper’ art gallery.”
Build the framework
It took the team six months to find a place. They commenced work in September, and two months went into readying the space. “It is an intentionally unfinished space, since we wanted to retain the original nuances of the house and transform the interiors over and over again to suit different exhibition designs,” explains Fernando. She states that the location itself proved a hurdle: “Property is as difficult to find in Dharavi as in the rest of Mumbai. We hunted for potential spaces (from little restaurants to houses in narrow gullies) for almost half a year. Finally, we found a place on the main road, yet very accessible to Kumbharwada (the potters’ colony).” The house, which the team rented from a potter, has a ground floor and an upper floor, both of which can be used for exhibitions.
What’s in store?
In December 2013, the space will host two Art Boxes (workshops). Illustrator Chaitanya Modak will host a comics-making session while Trishna Prakash will work with locals to represent the spread of Sexually Transmitted Infections on clay pots. Every Art Box includes a mentor artist who collaborates with the emerging artists to produce art.
The Dharavi Biennale in February 2015 will be the first major event at the space. Organised by the Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action (SNEHA), it will be the sequel to Dekha Undekha, a project (2011-2012) that ended as an exhibition of ceramic ware, photographs, and embroidery designs, titled Ghar Pe.
The Dharavi Biennale 2015 aims to weave together health research and art. “The goal is to acknowledge the contribution of locals from Dharavi to India’s economic and cultural life. Secondly, we hope to democratise the sharing of information on urban health science. It is a festival of the people and for the people of Dharavi,” observes Fernando.
Art of the matter
“We address issues of health and gender. We will have structural pieces from recycled materials, up-cycled furniture, textiles and graphic art. There will be site-specific installations, and events including drama, music and an art trail,” she elaborates. Before the Biennale, they plan to host exhibitions resulting from the workshops as well as puppet shows, multimedia installations, movie screenings and street performances.
Look into the colour box
>> The Dharavi Biennale began this February, with Art Boxes by artists Nika Feldman and Susie Vickery on the rape of Nirbhaya. Dharavi women created sarees with slogans against rape and used appliqué techniques to place symbols of protection on them.
>> An Art Box in June 2013 by graphic designer Chaitanya Modak had school-going as well as elderly participants creating comics about health issues.
>> The latest Art Box was held in October 2013 and was led by Khushboo Bharti, art professor from Jaipur’s Indian Institute of Craft and Design. Participants did video interviews with locals and created their own health signs that were displayed in Dharavi’s pharmacy shops, garbage disposal sites and gathering spots.
>> Now showing: Visitors can currently browse through exhibits from previous projects, like the Provoke / Protect sarees, the Comics Corner, health signs and Dream Girls exhibits, from the earlier exhibition Ghar Pe.