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At Home: Community Conversations on Health

Decorated domestic items speak volumes to exhibition audiences from within the low-income neighbourhoods at Dharavi as well those who have arrived from across Mumbai.

Last week in Mumbai, I visited an inspiring exhibition at my former ethnographic research stomping ground of Dharavi. It was a treat to be taken there by the artist who created the conceptual framework for the show, Nandita Kumar – and to meet many of the slum-based artists she had collaborated with. The installation grew out of a community-based initiative by SNEHA (Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action) which cited an opportunity to connect resource constrained urban residents with health experts and artists – to share skills plus knowledge, discuss issues and create ways of spreading messages further in a locally engaging and meaningful way.

Children readily engaged with a hand-operated television set featuring ‘good news’

The installation space, set up within a school at the heart of Dharavi, housed artworks which spoke to local domestic settings – hence the exhibition’s name Ghare Pe – At Home. During my afternoon visit a number of neighbouring school groups excitedly swarmed through and were shown round by the participating artists – who confidently explained their artworks while encouraging onwards conversation on health issues. Young students were intrigued by the many household items which were both familiar yet creatively provocative. The interactive and tactile nature of the show reeled them in as Nandita had intended.

Both youthful and elderly visitors were taking in the show – here checking out a cupboard filled with stuffed emoticon balls. These intended to illustrate how women have diverse emotions but are unable to express all of them openly within acceptable social norms.

Stainless steel canisters are gifted to women at marriage. Here the artist, Sneha, reveals: “I store rice, dal, wheat, jaggery, peppercorns, tamarind and dried chillies – an array of ingredients. To me they are like the flavours of my marriage”

Embroidered figures were inspired by topics from diet to vision

Locals were confronted by images from their own neighbourhoods – here of a woman facing mental health issues who lives on the street outside a roller door.

An embroidered item from a workshop session exploring personal health histories. “Three caesareans. One appendicitis. One miscarriage. And like an ending to a poem, one last family planning scar” Image source.
The initiative behind the exhibition, Dekha Undekha (Seen, Unseen) brought together mentors in photography, textiles and ceramics with local residents of Dharavi and beyond through a series of workshops run over the past year. Participants were asked to draw household items and body parts that they were happiest with alongside other exercises which helped them grasp artistic abstraction and skills, connect as a group, discuss health issues plus focus on themes. Conversations went back and forth between composition, concepts and technique plus personal hygiene, mental health, maternal care, sanitation, waste disposal, domestic violence and superstitions.

Exploring everyday addictions

Dishracks displaying household utensils are exhibited with pride across homes at Dharavi. Blended with photography they speak here about local health issues – especially surrounding sanitation.

Embroidered work depicting bacteria. “If you think about it, looking at microbes through a microscope makes them appear like they all set for a wedding – stained in many colours of royal purple, hot pink and pistachio green. They look so dressed up!” – commencing a conversation about what can be done to prevent the spread of diseases.
Image by Neville Sukhia


Sneha’s stovetop exhibit portraying domestic harmony and violence.

Spirited local artist Sneha has been a victim of domestic abuse. One of her artworks encompasses a decorated stove top. “Some days are marriage, some days are war.” One side of the stove shows happy days full of colour while the other side is filled with fear and a darker side of home life. She told me assuredly that “learning about intention, sequence, themes and action helped guide the emotions we felt to connect with the health issues we discussed in a way that would appeal to people out here.”

Asmabee with a selection of photographs by various local artists, including her own.

Dharavi-based artist, Asmabee, hadn’t touched a camera till about a year ago. Last month she earned a photography prize at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in well-heeled South Bombay. She acknowledges that participation in Dekha Undekha has given her confidence and won her local respect. Having worked at Dharavi a few years back, I was in awe at the ease of the local artists I met in articulating both their personal feelings and aspirations for their communities. They had also zealously encouraged visitors from their diverse neighbourhoods to come see the show and to continue discussions beyond its walls. Ghar Pe has been an expertly conceived exhibition and goes a long way in triggering significant conversations and solution-seeking – applaudably with, not for those in low-income communities. It would seem that At Home is a great place to start.

Related posts:
Random Specific Images of Dharavi on Flickr
Women Together: Incentivising Savings


Spun Gold


Recently in Ahmedabad I got on the hunt for upcycled rope – made from plastic and foil packing waste – which I’ve spotted throughout Gujarat over the past years. I came across street-side rope spinners, distributors using scooters and rickshaws plus a number of examples of the rope applied to bed bases. At the hands of savvy Indian micro-entrepreneurs, packaging life-cycles are extended and waste is transformed.

Rope is spun on the roadside using hand-operated machines

Rope is bundled and stacked onto rickshaws and scooters for distribution

Rope is sold in bundles and also fashioned into bed bases.
Related posts:
High Flying Waste
Celebrating Street-level Ingenuity
Post-consumption Creativity


Street-inspired Strong Suit

I’m heading off on my annual pilgrimage to the motherland next week, so was delighted to receive an Indo-centric gift ahead of my departure – in the form of a deck of cards featuring designs inspired by Indian truck art. The pack was designed by my local buddy Anton Hart who started typo-ventilating over Indian signage a few years back while working in Mumbai.

Award winning designer & creative director, Anton Hart and Simon Hayward, have joined forces to launch Blow Horn Design. They’re planning a series of witty and whimsical products inspired by Indian street art and playing up local humor. The cards are one of their first products to reach limited shelves – mainly at Simon’s boutique Goan resort Vivenda Dos Palhacos and also at Tuk Tuk in Margao, Sacha’s Shop in Panjim and Rangeela in Calangute.

Like me, Anton, has been drawn to Indian vehicular graphics which celebrate uniqueness and honour the local. He has skillfully devised a palette of typographic elements which will feature in their upcoming range. Meanwhile I’ve been the lucky recipient of some of his prototypes – and will depart for India shortly with his Takes Notes OK notebook & I Love Bombay t-shirt. While you’re waiting for these and more to hit the shelves – check out some images of Indian signage which keep us inspired.

Related posts:
Raja Remixed
Overlap: Intersections of the Desi and Diasporic


Celebrating Street-level Ingenuity

I was excited to return from summer holidays down here in New Zealand, to receive my copy of the first issue of Makeshift magazine. Makeshift is the product of a global network of editors, researchers, journalists, photographers and videographers uncovering stories of street-level ingenuity. I was invited to contribute via my participation on the REculture blog which explores the post-consumption economy of repair, re-use, repurpose and recycling – predominantly by those in low-income communities.

Makeshift is a quarterly magazine and multimedia website about creativity in unlikely places – from the favelas of Rio to the alleys of Delhi. These are environments where resources may be scarce but where ingenuity is used incessantly for survival, enterprise and self-expression. In different cultures it goes by different names: DIY in the US, jugaad in India, jua kali in East Africa and gambiarra in Brazil. Makeshift seeks to unify these cultures of production into a global identity. Makeshift is about people – the things they make and the context they make them in.

Makeshift has been pulled together both artfully & articulately by Steve Daniels in New York. (I’ve featured Steve before on Random Specific for his insightful work Making Do: Innovation in Kenya’s Informal Economy as part of a post on Amplifying African Creativity) Paying dues to the blog from which Makeshift evolved, this first issue has been themed REculture. Steve is quick to point out that informal economies operating in environments of scarcity tend to form sustainable trade ecosystems as they regularly reintroduce waste back into their supply chains. He perceives a new era “in which corporations, policy makers and designers must adapt to informal systems – devising platforms that empower people and communities to create.”

Russian photographer, Sergey Maximishin’s stunning images from Kenya’s jua kali sector.

The REculture issue contains imagery, infographics and articles on Mexican horseback recyclers, Kenyan hackonomics, Indian textile refabricators and more. My former collaborator, Niti Bhan, weighs in on contrasting approaches to waste from Delhi to the Phillipines and beyond: “Maximising returns on their investment and minimising their use of scarce resources, local makers develop affordable and locally relevant solutions to everyday challenges posed by the scarcities of the environment… extending the life of the product though a variety of characteristic behaviours…” She highlights the lessons to be learned from pursuing the limits of use from every resource.

Global-roaming anthropologist, Jan Chipchase, shines a light on the Afghani ‘dirty fuel’ street economy which keeps people on the road and generators running in a context of scarce reliable fill-up stations.

A savvy aspect of Makeshift is that it was crowd-funded on Kickstarter – the world’s largest peer-to-peer funding platform for creative projects. It raised over $40 000 USD in a matter of weeks from 600+ backers via it’s Kickstarter campaign – over double it’s initial goal. A fitting approach to funding for a magazine which celebrates bottom-up approaches and collaborative networks. Keep an eye out for Makeshift’s next issue on mobility – ingenuity on the move.

Related posts
Post-consumption Creativity
Indian Grassroots Innnovation
Sustainable Solutions from Mumbai Streets


Quick-pic Tuesdays: Supplementing Aspiration

Aspirational Supplement
Leveraging beauty aspirations to influence vitamin uptake – Indian calcium packaging.
Related posts:
Brand Polarities
Disrupting Typographic Transit Norms
Check out more Random Specific images on Flickr


Sustainable Solutions from Mumbai Streets

Buleshwar Broom Walla 
I’ve been feeling guilty of late, for neglecting posts to Random Specific – so it was heartening to be approached by CNN this month, who’ve created a gallery of images from my recent Quick-pic Tuesday posts. Here’s my original intro and a link through to the post on CNNGo:

Inventively Old School

Ingenuity runs rife across Mumbai – often flourishing at street level where stretched resources fuel efficient work-arounds. These lean business models frequently yield sustainable solutions based on conserving materials and energy. While the sky-line rises, engines rev and technology advances – lo-fi traders are seldom short on adaptive flair which pervades the city.
Check out some old school features of Mumbai’s street scene with fresh eyes.

Related links:
Post-consumption Creativity
Creative Plot to Blow Up Bombay


Quick-pic Tuesdays: Single Serve

Single Serve

In the age of bulk buy and corporate over-packaging, I tend to enjoy street-food experiences on annual trips to the motherland. I’m particularly fond of offerings from roaming roasted peanut & lentil sellers in Mumbai – equipped for the micro-dose single-serve. Goods are freshly roasted and they’ll happily customise the additional spices to your liking. Plus it’s all wrapped up in the recycled goodness of yesterday’s news. Simplicity reigns.

Related posts:
Sustainable Solutions from Mumbai Streets
Check out more Random Specific images on Flickr


Quick-pic Tuesdays: Mobile Butchery

Mobile Butchery

At Chor Bazaar (Thieves Market) in Mumbai: where India’s cellphones go to die – or more likely get recycled / reincarnated. Who needs an iPad when you can have a keypad?

Check out more Random Specific images on Flickr


Quick-pic Tuesdays: Waste Not, Want Not

Chinese natural resource efficiency – combining vegetable scraps and incense at a grave in Wellington during Ching Ming festival. I’ve also noted the use of broccoli stalk bases as sign holders by Chinese at the local farmers market. Making the most of what nature provides to support human endeavor – from faith to commerce.

Taken on assignment for the Death & Diversity project
Related post: Newspaper to New Paper


Quick-pic Tuesdays: Transcendental Trade

Transcendental Trade

Weights are anointed with holy powder at Grant Rd Market daily. Just one of the many intersections of creed and commerce to be observed across India.

Check out more Random Specific images on Flickr

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