Commute to Dharavi: Time to Paint the Mural from Artefacting Mumbai on Vimeo.

Paint Tulsi Pipe with cricket stadium deco. This was to be our assignment for the weekly art workshop for the kids and our first major “intervention” in Dharavi, but upon stepping down between those pipes to envision the monstrous task on hand we began to think otherwise. “How about we paint the shed instead”, was my practical response to the sheer size of these massive water pipes that bisect our community’s habitat. “Perhaps we can try this one later down the road”… and so the shed it was; the first of our escalating public art interventions.

At a regular community meeting that found the committee members Laxmi, Rafik and Anil discussing different topics with the juniors, the idea was planted. The shed will be painted with a “dil” that is the heart symbol that Ashish adamantly uses as part of his expression; a symbol that explodes from his break dancing/disco routines… and a symbol that seems to instantaneously infect others around into making the symbol themselves with their hands. A smile typically proceeds. And this “dil” accompanied by the silhouette of the “ragpicker”; a boy with a collection bag slung over his shoulder into which his “loot” or scavenged plastics is thrown. Many of the ACORN members work as plastic sorters, or in another recycling capacity, and through ACORN the “ragpicker” has come to represent them all.

“I don’t like it!” responded Laxmi to the vibrant maybe even outrageous color palette. “Dark brown, red instead” she suggested and at the same time described the status quo. “No no… purple, orange… bright beautiful colors” contests Rafik. And indeed with neon color blasts this mural would be taking a step towards the more contested and experimental, trying to fuse community derived phenomenon and our outsider, “foreigner” design and intentions.

Groups of people gathered around us as we primed and painted, with the help of Gudu, Arif, Ashish and the other older children. For the most part however it was just us, and the curious observations of our neighboring industrious workers. “Acha acha!!!” Good good!!! Beautiful! “Dill” (heart) exclaimed an old man walking by as he formed a “dil” with his hands and beamed a bright smile. So clearly our neighbors were in favor of our intervention, even requesting we paint their shed, but what about Lakshmi, Rafik, Anil and the rest of the community members that have called this space their communal secondary home for the past couple of years.

And on Monday, upon finishing the mural emerges Laxmi… initially with her hands over her mouth and stepping lightly, in shock over the bright colors that now envelop the community space that she has grown in and helped grow. She scours over the design and begins to point and explain to others the ragpicker and hearts emerging from the collection bag, and eventually a big smile comes over her face as she turns to me and says “I like it”.

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