PAINT­ING THE (SHANTY) TOWN

India Today - - INSIDE - —Moeena Halim

Colour­ful patches form a pix­e­lated pat­tern across the shanties in Nar­gis Dutt Na­gar, which have been part of the Ban­dra Recla­ma­tion sky­line in Mum­bai for the past 15 years. The squares and rec­tan­gles painted in dis­tinc­tive pista green, Rani pink, Kr­ishna blue, lemon yel­low and white are part of an artis­tic col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Amer­i­can painter and sculp­tor Jeff Gil­lette and Mum­bai-based artist and de­signer Samir Parker over April 11-12.

Based in Cal­i­for­nia, where he teaches art to high school stu­dents, Gil­lette’s fas­ci­na­tion with the slums can be traced back to his first trip to In­dia in the 1980s. His most pop­u­lar col­lec­tion of paint­ings, ti­tled Dis­may­land, with its post-apoc­a­lyp­tic slum­scape

pep­pered with Dis­ney char­ac­ters, is said to have in­spired Banksy’s Dis­ma­land. Parker, who teaches de­sign to un­der­grad­u­ate and post­grad­u­ate stu­dents, also finds in­spi­ra­tion in Mum­bai’s shanties. One of his big­gest projects has been the 2015 Roof/ Tarp/City project that in­volved the use of colour­ful tar­pau­lins to form a pat­tern on the roofs of chawls across Ban­dra.

At Nar­gis Dutt Na­gar, Gil­lette and Parker hope to draw at­ten­tion to the liv­ing con­di­tions through their work. Garbage and fae­ces lay sprawl­ing across the ex­panse just out­side the slums, the grey walls black­ened with dust. But the ‘Slum Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Author­ity’ is not a beau­ti­fi­ca­tion project. “Beauty is every­where. Even if we hadn’t done this, this place would be beau­ti­ful to me with its tex­tures, compo-

sition, vol­ume, light and shadow, solid and void; add to that the com­plex­i­ties of the lives, the po­lit­i­cal un­der­cur­rents and the fact that it’s go­ing away. We are not ac­tivists or so­cial work­ers so we can’t do a clean-up drive. But as artists we can en­gage, be clever, provoca­tive and draw at­ten­tion to the sit­u­a­tion,” notes Parker.

“It’s sad that peo­ple have to live like this. But I see it as ro­bust, full of life, a place with a lot of smil­ing peo­ple,” adds Gil­lette. His sig­na­ture sub­verted Mickey Mouse shows up in a few spots. “To me, it’s like a sign of dis­tress, that things aren’t the way they should be. Mickey Mouse here is a sym­bol of Dis­ney­land, which pro­fesses to be the hap­pi­est place on earth. I jux­ta­pose the so-called happy place with a real place,” he says.

Built with cor­ru­gated sheets, aban­doned doors and lad­ders lead­ing out of the win­dows, the land­scape holds a deep fas­ci­na­tion for both artists. While the idea of Parker’s Roof/Tarp/City was to bring colour to the city’s rooftops, the col­lab­o­ra­tive paint­ing project brings the tar­pau­lin art down to eye level.

By do­ing so, they hope to hu­man­ise the area for those driv­ing by the Sion-Ban­dra fly­over, catch­ing a glimpse of the slums with the high­rises in the back­ground. “Be­hind a slum win­dow, there might be a woman who wants to move to Dubai, or a lover who left some­one, or kids who have big dreams. We are try­ing to sug­gest this unique­ness through the pat­terns across each home. The in­hab­i­tants ap­pre­ci­ate it too— ‘Now we know which one is our home,’ they laugh,” Parker re­veals.

The colours they chose are the ones you would find on the walls of the homes if you were to walk in­side. The chalky colours seem to de­fine do­mes­tic­ity, be­lieves Parker.

The Mum­bai sky­line is in a con­stant state of flux, and this is Parker’s way of ex­press­ing the ur­ban fab­ric and mark­ing time with­out be­ing sen­ti­men­tal about it. Their next col­lab­o­ra­tion will be a mon­soon project when Gil­lette returns in June. The duo plans to use found ob­jects, in­flat­a­bles, rem­nants of pan­dals, ther­mo­col mould­ings to cre­ate a “larger metaphor for an amuse­ment park for things that would only pop up amidst Mum­bai’s flooded streets”.

“IT’S SAD PEO­PLE HAVE TO LIVE LIKE THIS. BUT I SEE IT AS RO­BUST, FULL OF LIFE, A PLACE WITH A LOT OF SMIL­ING PEO­PLE,” SAYS GIL­LETTE

ROOF/TARP/CITY Samir Parker’s 2015 tar­pau­lin project in Ban­dra

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