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This unique dinner party in Mumbai features life-sized hand-made doll installations

Updated on: 08 December,2022 10:14 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Sukanya Datta |

A unique dinner party installation at a city gallery features life-sized hand-made dolls of scrap inspired by special kids. We took a seat at the table, and imagined a world that is inclusive

This unique dinner party in Mumbai features life-sized hand-made doll installations

The installation at æquo in Colaba offers an interactive experience. Pics/Satej Shinde

Peering at his pizza from behind golden-rimmed spectacles, Cai is a magician and a mathematics wizard. The autistic teddy bear, who sits at one head of a table at Colaba gallery æquo, always has a trick or two up his spunky dinner jacket sleeves. Ray, the dog, has traded his hockey jersey for a velvety waistcoat with satin stitchwork. Max is a rapper, who brings snazz to the table, in a dapper chequered suit, a cross-stitch tie, and of course, jumbo headphones. Norah, the cat, is a visually impaired dancer, who taps away to the sound of music. They, along with Maya, the marine biologist, Mario, the chef, and Leo, the bunny, are the Moonchildren — life-sized dolls hand-crafted out of scrap fabric by women artisans. Among them all is an empty seat — for you. Pull up the chair, dress yourself up in a cape or a hat, and dig into the feast-y chatter on inclusivity that will kick off tomorrow.

(From left) Archana Chandra and Karishma Swali(From left) Archana Chandra and Karishma Swali

Titled A Seat at the Table, the unique installation is part of a tie-up between Moonray Craft Collective and Jai Vakeel Foundation. Set up in 1944, the non-profit foundation works with children with intellectual and developmental disability (IDD). The installation — conceptualised and designed by Avantika Swali and her mother, Karishma, the co-founders of Moonray — is inspired by kids of Jai Vakeel Foundation. The playful idea sparked off after Avantika, 15, started spending time at the foundation, where she teaches origami. Karishma recalls that it was around a year and a half ago that her daughter began imagining these characters. The collaboration, which marked International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, also led to the creation of a unique line of accessories such as keychains and pins featuring the Moonchildren. “Each of them has a story that focuses on their abilities, rather than their disabilities,” shares Karishma.

Artisans of Chanakya School of Craft work on the collectionArtisans of Chanakya School of Craft work on the collection

From the corals in marine biologist Maya’s pigtails, to the deliciously crafted medu vadas, dosas and coconut chutney on Norah’s plate, it is the little thoughtful details that make the installation an engaging treat. The dolls, their eclectic attires, the food in front of them as well as the objects surrounding them have been hand-made by women from the Chanakya School of Craft, co-run and co-founded by Karishma.

Finishing touches being given to the collection at the galleryFinishing touches being given to the collection at the gallery

Archana Chandra, CEO of Jai Vakeel Foundation, shares that the idea is to sensitise people about the fact that two per cent of our population has IDD. “Yet, you seldom see them in public spaces. We are pushing for inclusion by equipping our children on our campus, as well as trying to create awareness about it through such projects,” she reasons. Each time one buys the Moonchildren accessories, they become ambassadors of inclusivity. “How does one effect behavioural change? Through dialogue; by creating art installations like this, where we’re asking people to take a seat at the table, and saying that every voice counts. This is a tangible reminder for us to be kinder and inclusive,” she adds.

Avantika Swali (extreme right) with children from Jai Vakeel FoundationAvantika Swali (extreme right) with children from Jai Vakeel Foundation

As we walk around getting introduced to Cai, Ray, Max and friends, we can’t help fawning over the stylish mish-mash of traditional techniques used in the installation, such as appliqué, satin stitch, cross-stitch, micro-beading, macramé and crochet. The weaves bring alive the fun personalities of the adorable characters. Founder of aequo, Tarini Jindal Handa, notes that the installation features “high design with a sense of humour, and is a brilliant way to spread awareness”. “I love that it’s so playful but when you look closely, it’s made entirely with the incredible embroidery of the artisans at Chanakya.” 

Accessories from the collection. Proceeds from the sale will support the foundationAccessories from the collection. Proceeds from the sale will support the foundation

The installation, which will be unveiled tomorrow, will be followed by a workshop on Sunday. It will also be open to the public for viewing, with a focus on schools and colleges. Go ahead, take a seat.

Accessories from the collection. Proceeds from the sale will support the foundation

From December 9 to 11; 6 pm to 9 pm (tomorrow); all day (December 10 and 11) 
At æquo, Colaba. 
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