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Mumbai Urban Art Festival aims to become a biennale

As the Mumbai Urban Art Festival, which closes on 22 February, enters its last few weeks, the organisers hope to make it a regular event on the city’s calendar

Aashti Miller's Choropleth at the Mumbai Urban Art Festival.
Aashti Miller's Choropleth at the Mumbai Urban Art Festival. (Sohil Belim)

It was in 2017 that Mumbai’s Sassoon Dock first caught attention for its edgy street art. Over 30 global artists showcased their art at the docks that were earlier used only by the fishing communities and put Mumbai on the list of cities known for street art. Since then, public art has gone mainstream in Mumbai, from the murals of filmstars in Bandra to the quirky wall paintings on Chapel Road that depict fantastical characters in human situations to the larger-than-life figure of Gandhi alighting a train at the historic Churchgate station.

Also read: Art for those by the sea

The ongoing Mumbai Urban Art Festival, organized by St+art India Foundation and Asian Paints, has been trying to deepen the connection between art and the city. “We have been working in Mumbai for eight years and have created a serious body of art here,” says Arjun Bahl, co-founder of St+art India Foundation. “The city needs consistent art interventions and we hope to bring the festival back regularly in a biennale format. The aim is to build the contemporary heritage of Mumbai and continue to cultivate the relationship with the city through its art.”

Most of the art explores the theme of a ‘city in flux’, as movement is inherent to Mumbai and the art reflects on the excesses of the city’s unprecedented growth. The exhibitions include Mumbai’s history as a trading hub as well as the diverse narratives between the sea and the city.

The artists include local as well as international artists. “We have over 60 artists working across mediums including digital works, new media expressions, sculptures, installations, and more,” says Rhea Maheshwari, assistant curator at St+art India Foundation. There are emerging artists who may be showing for the first time alongside senior artists who have engaged with the city for many years. The idea, she says, is to create an interdisciplinary, diverse platform to engage different practices.

The foundation actively engages local communities too. “We always look at how we can make public art more participatory and the locals can also be co-actors,” says Maheshwari. And so, in places like Dharavi, local residents have collaborated on the art with non-profits like Aravani Arts Project, which works with the transgender community, and Dharavi Art Room, which uses art to empower children and women of marginalised communities. 

The foundation has also worked with Siddhant Shah of Access For All, who specialises in bridging the gap between cultural heritage and disability. “From the beginning we have focused on making art accessible and engaging people’s imaginations,” says Bahl. “Art after all, is about creating a democratic experience for all.”

If you haven’t yet visited the Mumbai Urban Art Festival, here is a list of the exhibitions that are on until 22 February 2023:

Intuitions: Between the sea and the city

Where: Sassoon Docks

What: Huge murals at the docks that poses questions about our complex relationship with the environment and the expanding hypercity.

The Bandra Project

Where: Carter Road Skatepark

What: Two temporary installations and a permanent artwork with a walk and talk.

AP Art House

Where: Mahim East Arts District

What: 20 murals by international and Indian artists along with three large scale murals and urban tactical interventions such as edible gardens.

Also read: Kala Ghoda returns after a two-year break

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