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‘Everyone is an artist. No conditions apply!’

Friday, May 10, 2013

When we’re growing up our dreams are provoked by the idealist in our small selves. We want to make the world a better place. But we grow up to learn the harsh truth: we are still small in an infinitely vast universe. While most people forget their dreams and resort to the grind of society when this realisation strikes, there are others who retain the memory and understand that the notion of big and small depends on individual perception and that we are big, in our own small way. Dharavi Art Room emerged from such a mind. Natasha Rego brings us the big picture.

About a decade ago, when most people their age were thinking of the latest Bollywood flick and frequenting malls, a few college boys walked into Mumbai’s famous Dharavi slum to work with the impoverished communities there. It was a sporadic effort that ranged from helping people clean up their land to taking art classes for children, thus forming the humble beginnings of the Dharavi Art Room. Although most of them grew up and got jobs, one of them, Himanshu S. who later joined the Sir J.J. School of Arts, recruited more college mates and continued to work with marginal communities in Mumbai. And thus, Bombay Underground began, constantly helped by its former members.

“We were inconsistent all those years because we had to constantly negotiate with people for a place to conduct the art classes,” said Himanshu in a low murmur, seemingly his speaking style. “We gained consistency in the form of a permanent room when we collaborated with ‘Reality Gives’ two years ago.” They called it Dharavi Art Room.

Standing proudly on top of the home belonging to one of the slum’s numerous inhabitants, Dharavi Art Room invites the neighbourhood children to come by on weekends and spend time drawing, painting, taking photographs, and basically having fun. But the kids are not confined to only paper. With required permission the Art Room is opening up the walls of Dharavi to the children giving them bigger canvases than they ever dreamed of.

The aim of all this is “making sure the kids have a good time and are picking up skills... (especially because) municipal schools have their own set of limitations,” said Himanshu, who is now an art teacher at a local art school and several Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation schools. He added that it engages their minds when they have nothing to do and could act as a barrier from maybe wandering down a dangerous path.

Apart from being ill-equipped, the state school curriculum abandons drawing classes in the 9th standard, making the children take up additional math and science classes. So what the children have in Dharavi Art Room is a place where they can continue creating, irrespective of their age and class. While some of them make their drawings referring to images on phones and T-shirts, some daringly venture into their imagination and make unrecognisable creatures from there.

When asked what exactly the figure in his drawing was, 14-year-old Suraj, Himanshu’s aide-de-camp, cheekily said, “I was drawing and drawing, and this fellow emerged. I don’t know how, but he just did.” Interestingly, with those words, he seemed to have described the force behind the Dharavi Art Room which is run on a trial-and-error basis and pure instinct.

Because, said Himanshu, “I don’t think I can do anything else better.”

What is ‘Reality Gives’?
‘Reality Gives’ is the social wing of responsible tourism organisation Reality Tours which has been working in and around Dharavi for the last five years. Tourists who visit Dharavi through Reality Gives make a stop at the Dharavi Art Room and purchase the paintings and photographs created by the children.

Mumbai 17 – The Exhibition
The art work that the children produce at the Dharavi Art Room–paintings and photographs–are on display at False Ceiling in Pali Naka, Bandra, till Saturday, May 11.

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