On the 6th and 7th of this month we organised a 48 hour workshop with and for the residents of New Transit Camp in Dharavi. We have spent now nearly 3 months working with the children at the Dharavi Shelter, creating a new platform for art and expression, learning about the residents’ lives and thoughts and sharing this space for learning and growing.
We have been engaged in activities ranging from drawing and painting, animation screening, dance, visits to the city, as well as improving the current space we inhabit. What has been very special from the start of this small initiative, is that we have closely worked with the residents of the community, always seeking elders advice and understanding the communities´ aspirations and hopes for the shelter, and we have been working hard to try and achieve them.
The 48 hour event we organised in Dharavi had two main aims, one was to gain some more funds for our dreams for the site to include a space for a library and a computer room, as well funds for more activities, and the other was to raise more awareness and get more people involved in the shelter and its activities.
The event was incredible, not because we raised a lot of money (because we honestly didn’t!) but because together with the effort of so many volunteers and the community we engaged in two days of sharing, learning and lots of fun with so many new creative activities with the children.
The first 24 hours
So the first day, after setting up the artwork for sale and organising the hall, we began our daytime activities. The children engaged in a drawing competition facilitated by Common Room artists Khushnam and Anitra. This was followed by a clay workshop by a group of youth from neighbouring ‘Khumbarwada’ (a part of Dharavi where Gujarati potters live and work) who made little toys and objects out of clay. In the afternoon, a painting workshop was conducted by American artist Alison Reeves and in addition to this, Sejal and Snowy, also conducted a mural painting workshop with a group of children inside the Shelter. They painted the walls with blackboard paint to enable the space to be used for learning in the future.
In addition to all the art activities, Sudharak Olwe, from the Times of India Group, and his team of photographers also exhibited the photographic work they have been doing in Dharavi and made a presentation about their future work. Now their team is interested in commencing a photography workshop with the children so that the children document their environment and neighbourhood streets.
In this space, we also displayed an Austrian exhibition which documented ´cultures of living´ through images of homes and people which were photographed and then exchanged to later emerge as a book.
At the event, Italian and German and students from Liebniz University that had been working in Dharavi for a week learning about the history of the houses, presented back to the community what they had learnt and what they wished to work on in the future. The work was exhibited in the main hall enabling community residents to discuss and critique what they saw. It was an extremely valuable opportunity for sharing and learning as well as generating discussions about people’s stories, their creative efforts and their aspirations.
Lastly, the evening ended with a beautiful musical performance by sitar player Madhusudhan Kumar who was accompanied by his tabla player. The musicians called on the participation of the children and beckoned them onto stage to give them an introduction to classical Indian rhythms. The children sang and screamed to their hearts content!
The last 24 hours
The second day began with new energy and new volunteers. Roy, Avani, Parul and Steve, brought with themselves lots of paper plates, feathers, glitter and paints and conducted an extremely enjoyable mask making activity with the children. In addition to this an Italian photographer, that has travelled around India for quite many months, dropped by to show his work to the children and learn about their opinions and thoughts about what they saw. The Khumbars, dropped by again as well, this time to demonstrate to the audience, their pot making skills on the spinning wheel. In addition Yashmi and Namta did an incredible mural painting workshop with the children in the entrance wall of the shelter, where they joined in a collaborative effort to paint a tree with many branches and gathered the children to write their names all around it.
In the early evening, we were joined by the Capoeria group in Mumbai, who came to conduct a small class and perform their beautiful art at the event. Rezah Massah, the professor of the team, imbibed the audience with uplifting energy and gathered the children to do some capoeira exercises. This was then followed by a brilliant performance from the team.
Koli (the fishermen folk and original residents of Dharavi and the city) set up a stall and sold delicious fish treats for the hungry bellies throughout the evening. People mingled, gathered, shared, learnt, danced, smiled, participated and most importantly enjoyed themselves!
The final activity for the event was the much waited dance competition the children had been practicing for weeks. Paul’s wife (who owns the shelter and has encouraged us to work there) took over the stage and presented the dancers show. This was followed by a prize distribution and lots of music, dancing and fun!
The event was a great opportunity for us to reach out to more people that came to learn about the Shelter, but most importantly for the children and residents to engage in a 2 day art event that brought people from outside to step into Dharavi for the first time and learn what this place is really about; a place where ambitions are strong, and aspirations are high, where children have an incredible energy and a capacity to learn and swallow the world if given the opportunity, where the worlds future artists and creative minds exist, where people have the will, the strength and heart to make things change for the better by themselves. A place that needs to be legitimized so that people can synergize all their positive energy into working towards their future rather than battling against a system by which they are deemed illegal, by a system that doesn’t collaborate with the residents to understand who they really are, by a system that wants to use a ‘tabula rasa’ approach and force them all to start from zero all over again.