As the city gears up for the quirky Kala Ghoda arts festival, Ananya Bahl takes a look at what makes Mumbai’s creative scene so unique
Recently, when the Royal Opera House in Mumbai opened its gates after 23 years, there was a rush of patrons to marvel at the restored Baroque-style building that was initially inaugurated by King George V in 1911. But this building, the only surviving opera house in India, is just one of the many art marvels of the City of Dreams. Did you know that Mumbai has the most number of Art Deco buildings in the world after Miami, in the US? Or that the Town Hall, which houses the Asiatic Society, is considered one of the finest examples of neoclassical architecture? The city was also the birthplace of the Bombay Progressive Artists Group, one of the most pioneering modern art movements in India. Its members included some of the most well-known contemporary Indian masters like FN Souza, SH Raza and MF Husain. With such a rich legacy of artistes, it comes as no surprise that the financial capital of the country is one of the cities at the heart of India’s booming contemporary art scene. “An experimental thriving community” is how gallerist Hena Kapadia, owner of Tarq Art gallery, describes Mumbai’s art atmosphere.
Time for the Dark Horse
It’s that time of the year again, when Mumbai’s premier art district is gripped with joie de vivre. From February 4 to 12 this year, the 18th edition of the Kala Ghoda arts festival will unfold a world of creativity, gaiety and entertainment. Apart from the fact that it’s probably the largest multi-cultural festival in Asia, what has kept the Kala Ghoda going strong all these years is its egalitarian nature. There is no entry fee and, held in an area flanked by some of the most prestigious art establishments of the city — including the National Gallery of Modern Art, Jehangir Art Gallery and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya — it brings art closer to the masses. Students, families, budding shutterbugs, elite art enthusiasts, celebrities and just about anyone else can be found strolling through the area, observing and buying. Don’t miss this year’s special – the Spirit of Kala Ghoda – a statue of a black horse installed at the venue’s parking lot.
Mumbai is seeing a spurt in digital platforms showcasing and selling art. These go beyond the concept of “art for art’s sake” and attach a utility value to designs. They are accessible and easy on the pocket, something that has caught the fancy of millennials. Aditya Mehta’s Art&Found (www.artandfound.co) connects emerging Indian artists from around the world with buyers, and showcases artwork that’s priced roughly between `1,000 and `20,000. Mehta says that the experience involves selling quality artwork in an online retail set-up so an individual can conveniently become a collector without spending like one. Art&Found’s typical customer is aged between 25 and 45 years, mostly a first-time buyer looking to spruce up his or her home or office space.
Kulture Shop (www.kultureshop.in) connects artists of Indian origin from around the world to create accessories, home products and stationery, with an aim to reflect the new-age Indian. They also have a store at Bandra.
Artistic interiors Art on your wall is passe. Top interior decor firms today are using art to inspire homes. Harshi Agarwal of Brushes n Strokes uses zentangle and doodle art to decorate walls. Her clients include retail stores and offices. She recently depicted the stories of East Indians of Chapel Road for a restaurant in the city. Ritika Varshney runs Baatli Co., which is based on the concept of “upcycled art”. She paints everything from portraits and scenery to inspirational messages and monuments on discarded glass bottles to create beautiful bottle lamps. Arshad Sayyed is the founder and director of Wallcano, a collective of space designers and mural artists, that specialises in creating beautiful office spaces. Their work has been used by Flipkart, Myntra and Superdry, as well as in films like Hasee Toh Phasee. Their target is to add character to mundane spaces like offices, shops, parking areas, gyms and even elevators!
Mumbai is known for its love for public art. From not-so-pretty graffiti to the much-talked-about Wall Project, the city welcomes both professional and amateur artists to use public spaces as their canvas. The Wall Project, which started in 2009 as an initiative by local artists to brighten up a neglected stretch of the Senapati Bapat Marg, has now become a much-respected initiative for amateur and professional artists.
In Mumbai, street painting is not so much about fine art as it is about public participation and spreading a social message. Jai ‘Zaiu’ Ranjit is a self-taught abstract storyteller, who narrates tales through his art. He has made murals highlighting the importance of cleanliness at Rivali Park in Mumbai’s Borivali suburbs to inspire locals. Ranjit Dahiya’s Bollywood Art Project is an urban art initiative that has been involved in the creation of grand murals on walls across Mumbai as a living memorial to Bollywood. Some of the project’s work includes a mural of Dadasaheb Phalke on Bandra’s MTNL building, one of Amitabh Bachchan and a still from the film Anarkali (1953), all at Bandra.
The author is an acclaimed travel writer and the views expressed in this article are her own