Designs on Mumbai : Innate and informed

Whats so special about this city? Here's an art show that brings Mumbai at its best

One of India's bustling, teeming metros, Mumbai is a modern urban space caught between extremities of tradition and radicalism, high-rises and shanties, classic art and populist culture. This complex mix of ingredients coupled with the enterprising spirit of the city - unchecked by continuing gangwars, and bomb blasts - provides the context and the challenge for a contemporary artist.

On the eve of the new millennium, Tate Modern hosted a special section 'Bombay/Mumbai, 1992 - 2001' as part of the exhibition "Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis" that reflected the city's contested history. The section showcased painting and sculptures and even the latest technologies of photography, film, video and the web.

The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA)'s annual show 'Ideas & Images: The Art in Mumbai' makes a similar attempt to grasp the spirit of the city through art. The show - fifth in the series since 1999 - was formally unveiled for public viewing on September 10, 2003. The exhibits includes an installation exploring the innate ability of Mumbai's hawkers and stall owners to create eye-catching displays on the pavement and how this innate creative process differs from an informed process when artists try to respond to their work in creations of their own.

Mumbai's art scene has always been vibrant. As curator Arshiya Lokhandwala of Lakeeren Gallery mentions in one of her essays: "The art scene in Mumbai is lively and upcoming artists are working in new mediums like handmade rice paper, photography, installations within gallery spaces and site-specific work as well as computer, online and performance art. Many themes strongly question the local/social/political environment under which they practice as well as addressing popular culture and issues of globalization."

Dr Saryu Doshi, Director of the NGMA, echoes similar sentiments. She notes: "For the last 150 years, the city has supported an active art scene and it is only fitting that this aspect be highlighted by a special show in the NGMA's annual exhibition schedule." What's unique about the Mumbai-centric show is its effort to bring out the strong sense of design intrinsic to the city and its people that often go unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of daily life. 

Renowned designer Pinakin Patel has lined-up ubiquitous objects in the gallery. He has shot photographs of street stalls for viewers' reference and has installed supporting merchandise. So, an attractive display of their 'kitsch' objects by vendors derives a new artistic meaning. Then there's that ubiquitous hawker's car being turned into a work of art! Beside the stalls, artists Bose Krishnamachari and Yogesh Rawal have made works based on roadside objects like combs and crates respectively.

The other level of the NGMA has films on Mumbai, whereas a separate section includes the profile of late Mumbai artist N S Bendre in tribute to the artist. Another floor is dedicated to the upcoming talented artists such as Riyaz Komu, TV Santhosh, Sunil Gawde and Justin Ponmany who have made a special collaborative on the city and its people. The section also houses a selection of individual works by these artists. Moving on to the Top Dome, one gets to see paintings and installations done by artists M F Husain, S H Raza, Akbar Padamsee, Jitish Kallat and Atul Dodiya. Cartoons form another segment of the exhibition wherein a selection of witty cartoons by Mario Miranda and Hemant Morparia is on display.

This year, the NGMA has also invited corporates to join the show. One gets to see some rare paintings in private collections perhaps being shown publicly for the first time. Works by Chitravanu Mazumdar, Jehangir Sabavala, Atul Dodiya, Husain, Manjit Bawa, Akbar Padamsee, Langhammer, and Ram Kumar among others form part of this collection. Private corporations such as Air India, Tata Sons, Associated Capsules, Nicholas Piramal Industries, Deutsche Bank AG, and Citibank have contributed to this section.

Collectively, the exhibit is a showcase of Mumbai's unique artistic traditions.

'Ideas and Images: The Art in Mumbai' is on at National Gallery of Modern Art from September 10 to October 19 (Mondays closed).

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