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Why does my art feel so bad?

Mumbai is an ugly city. Before you send me to jail for sedition or whatever it is the stupid kids are snorting this week, let me clarify. Mumbai happens to be a very pretty place, but we keep trying to build things on it. We paved paradise and put up a Shiv Sagar. Inside a skywalk.

On a mall. In Antilla. Mumbai is like your bedroom; there’s a lot of cool stuff in it but every time we run out of space, we just put other stuff on top of the old stuff. And then one day it rains and everybody in your bedroom dies.

The giant metal bat installed on Carter Road, like most good metal, reflects vibrantly in our sunlight. I don’t know why we have to blind incoming aircraft with a laser cannon to celebrate Sachin Tendulkar. He’s a cricketer, not a Bond villain. File pic
The giant metal bat installed on Carter Road, like most good metal, reflects vibrantly in our sunlight. I don’t know why we have to blind incoming aircraft with a laser cannon to celebrate Sachin Tendulkar. He’s a cricketer, not a Bond villain. File pic

Urban messes often lend themselves to great public art. Expressions of ideas that lie out in the open, for anyone to contemplate. Or write ‘Raju Loves Pinky’ on. In Melbourne for example is Hoosier Lane, a four block stretch where every single surface is a canvas.

Every few months, new graffiti replaces older murals the old lane gets a new face, just like Ravi Shastri. In Toronto, one percent of the gross cost of any building project is dedicated to commissioning public art. And Mumbai… has a giant orange baby’s head.

As giant orange baby heads go, Chintan Upadhyay’s work is up there with the very best of giant orange baby heads. And if I were having a giant orange baby, I would want it to have a head just like that. Also, depictions of Mumbai cover the baby’s face, and they’re the problem; vada-pav, the sea-link, Ganesha, taxis, and so on.

If you’re wondering where you’ve seen those symbols before, the answer is ‘Everywhere’. Really? Taxis? Vada Pav? The only way those symbols could be more cliched is if they had a Sigma Six rating and delivered lunch better than anyone else on Earth.

And then there’s the installation on Worli Seaface that looks like someone forgot to clean up after a picnic inside a Balbharti book. There is also that giant chunk of metal on Mahim Causeway with the line “A child gives birth to a mother” written under it.

You just know whoever came up with that line went looking for someone to hi-five the second they thought of it. There’s also a giant metal bat off Carter Road. Like most good metal, it reflects vibrantly in our sunlight. I don’t know why we have to blind incoming aircraft with a laser cannon to celebrate Sachin Tendulkar. He’s a cricketer, not a Bond villain.

We have next to no public art and what precious little there is says nothing. It is commissioned by the odd privileged private citizen, so weirdly enough we have to be grateful for this otherwise we’d have nothing. In a culture where saying anything new, or anything that doesn’t reinforce the status quo can get you in trouble, this is all the public art we’re going to get.

There isn’t a system in place to encourage it or even facilitate it. Nobody’s quite sure who the relevant authority is. According to a report, one installation was brought down days before its opening because it didn’t have all the right permissions.

And if you want to go to the only other excellent gallery of public art in Mumbai, it’s a bit of a trip because you have to fly to an entire other country first, and then fly back into Terminal 2. Our options for public art seem bleak. Though I may have found the solution; helicopters.

When you turn on to the Western Express Highway from Mahim, right now there’s a helicopter parked on the side of the road. A real helicopter. Just sitting there. What a random, and more importantly, OMG-TOTALLYAWESOME piece of badassery to have lying around on the side of a road.

It fills me with joy every time I see it there. Like all good art, it makes me wonder. I gaze at it and wonder which politician will be the first to use it to flee the country with his money as Mumbai sinks into the ocean. It is the best piece of art on our roads right now.

We need to have more helicopters lying in the street. They’ll give off the badass joie de vivre that Mumbai seems to have lost. Maybe some people could even use them to fly to T2 to see some art.

Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo. You can also contact him on www.facebook.com/therohanjoshi

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