Armchair Deco tour of the subcontinent
If you are a fan of all things Art Deco, here are six interesting Instagram handles, from Kolkata to Karachi, to follow
The financial capital is where the Art Deco movement gained foothold in the early 20th century, before it spread to other parts of the Indian subcontinent. Art Deco's Instagram handle is no different. With 11.4K followers, it is one of the largest digital repositories of Deco in India. "Through our digital outreach, we have created huge awareness within the 24 to 45 age group. It's led to a sensitisation and appreciation of the city's Deco, and many have responded with curiosity and enthusiasm. Empowering residents is the first step in enabling conservation," says Atul Kumar, founder trustee of Art Deco Mumbai. While their website is heavy on news and content, the Instagram page focuses on engaging visuals.
A residence in Daryaganj, along Ansari Road. Pic courtesy/Art Deco DELHI
Deco in Delhi was born out of architect Geetanjali Sayal's curiosity of understanding and archiving the brief stint Art Deco had in the capital. "Art Deco became a popular choice of building during the British rule in many public structures and residences [here], especially after it gained popularity in Mumbai," says Sayal. The spirit of this style helped some of the architects, princes, professional class and local residents to experiment with art and design in architecture for the first time. "Here in Delhi, Art Deco is found to have fascinating overlaps with Indo-Saracenic, Neo-Classical styles, while making its way to some of the modern structures we have even today. In some cases, it also reflects the religious beliefs of people, aptly identified as Indo-Deco, a term coined by Amin Jaffer, the International Director of Asian Art at Christie's London."
The spire of the Tower House Building in Kolkata. Pic courtesy/Art Deco Calcutta
Adhiraj Bose's interest in Art Deco began when he saw a picture of the Empire State Building in the Millennium Encyclopaedia that was gifted to him. "The school where I studied, St Lawrence High School, was also built in Art Deco style. You could say I almost grew up with it as part of my surroundings," says Bose. "The style of Art Deco architecture in Kolkata can be compared with Miami's Tropical Deco with the dominance of streamlined modern designs. Though, at first largely popular with commercial architecture, around the central part of the city, where most of the largest and most prominent Art Deco buildings can be found, it quickly caught on in residential architecture with many Bengali and European families adopting the design. Notable among them were the Ranjani Mansion on Lower Circular Road (now Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose Road) and the Sen Mansion, or Jahaj bari on Elgin Street." Bose is presently focusing on making an Art Deco map of the city. He has marked nearly 200 buildings so far.
A building on Lalazar Road, Karachi. Pic courtesy/Art Deco Karachi
Karachi-based Marvi Mazhar is a torchbearer of architectural and cultural heritage in her home city. Having initiated an academic research-based project called Heritage Walk Karachi for Pakistan Chowk Community Centre, the architect simultaneously began working on another initiative, where she developed archives on historic bungalows. This is when the idea of documenting Art Deco in Karachi took root. Art Deco came to this port city much later than it did in Mumbai, and it brought together several conflicting styles, says Mazhar. For instance, the dome and parapet detailing were borrowed from Lutyens' architecture in Delhi. "In Karachi, our heritage is looked at from a typical lens, pre-Partition/colonial or Mughal past. But Art Deco and brutalist movements with newly introduced material concrete in '50s and '60s talk about the starting of modernism in Pakistan," says Mazhar. The 450-odd posts, are not heavy on captions, but allow you to soak into the architectural details in the photograph. From the mosaic geometric shapes on the flooring, semi-circular balconies, intricately designed balustrades, to sweeping curves, this is an interesting pictorial curation.
Mahmood function hall, Yousufguda. Pic courtesy/Art Deco Hyderabad
When one talks of the city of Hyderabad, it's the Charminar or the Golconda Fort that is usually mentioned in the same breath. Architecture student Nitya Gonnakuti started documenting Art Deco buildings on Instagram, as an attempt to show that her city had made room for other aesthetic architectural marvels, too. That many of these structures were slowly giving way for "modern buildings", made it urgent to document them. Gonnakuti says, "People always pay attention to conserving monuments that represent a centre of power, but we also need to focus on architecture, that actually shows the transition the city has gone through." Art deco in Hyderabad, she says, reflected the transition from the Qutb Shahi, the Nizam, and Colonial architecture. "It paved a way for modernism. A large number of these are situated on the RP Road and Jeera in Secunderabad."
Kerala Bhavan Lodge, Palayam. Pic courtesy/Art Deco Kerala
It was in 2016, during a visit to Mumbai, as part of his architectural studies that Aflah Habeeb Mohammed first got interested in Art Deco. The buildings kissing Marine Drive, piqued his curiosity. "This led me to dive deep into the style and its history," he recalls. The next phase was to explore similar structures in Kerala, and photograph them. "Kerala doesn't have a cosmopolitan city. It has a unique settlement pattern of the rural-urban continuum, due to which the Art Deco structures here, aren't concentrated in a few cities/towns like in Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata. This also makes it a little harder to map every building," he says. At present, Mohammed says that only vernacular architecture is recognised as heritage in Kerala, while structures from movements like Art Deco are left to fall to ruin.
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