Art, health and recycling: What the Dharavi Biennale was all about

The last thing you expect to see while walking through Dharavi's cramped lanes are artwork and installations. It's a perception that Mumbai-based not-for-profit organisation, SNEHA, has been trying to change since 2011. The Dharavi Biennale started as an initiative to combine art and welfare in Dharavi, and to highlight the contribution of its people to the area.


A resident stands in front of his painting in Dharavi. From the Biennale website.

"The Biennale invites Dharavi residents to meet, educate themselves on urban health, learn new skills, and produce challenging artworks. It is a collaboration between artists of all kinds, scientists and activists to develop locally resonant artworks that are authentic, honest and relevant," reads an introduction on their website.

This year's Biennale begun on 15 February with a range of puppet shows in the Sant Kayaka Ground area, made by Dharavi residents. This year 4 exhibition centres were inaugurated across the area, including SNEHA's office headquarters called The Colourbox, where a number of installations will be fixed.

One of the ongoing projects of the Biennale includes the Provoke/Protect series (2013): a range of recycled hand-me-down sarees sourced from Dharavi's Kunchi Kurve community. Each saree had a slogan that pointed towards the prevention of rape. The maker of these sarees, Anjali Amma, handprints slogans such as "Lock up the rapist, not the woman".

A curated pop-up kitchen staged across 4 months in the area, called the Dharavi Food Project, brings together 8 Dharavi women for live-cooking demonstrations.

"Bharti and Jigna Majewadia, whose families are originally from Kutch, caught the others’ interest with rustic foods that required the use of clay and preserved ancestral traditions of therapeutic cooking tailored to the well-being of new mothers and young children," says an excerpt from the website.


Women residents cook dishes for the pop-up kitchen with their mentors. From the Biennale website.

Bangalore-based illustrator and artist Shilo Shiv Suleman was a part of the Biennale as well,  involving the residents of Dharavi in painting murals all across the area. The Biennale's Instagram account is filled with work in progress snippets of these murals.

An initiative titled Transemateriomutator, in Shama Building, held a workshop on do-it-yourself recycled products, resulting in various installations across the neighbourhood.

Many plays and film screening are also a part of at 15-day celebration. Indefensible Space, a film on public toilets and women safety directed by Manish Sharma was screened to a packed audience, as well as documentary-filmmaker Paromita Vohra's play Ishquiya Dharavi Style, which
is based on love and sexuality, and featured performances by youth from Dharavi.

The Hindi version of Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues was also performed at Guru Nanak Hall. The Biennale ended on 8 March, but artworks and installations are still up for viewing at various corners of the neighbourhood. So if you haven't caught it yet, you can still catch a glimpse of this remarkable festival.


Updated Date: Mar 09, 2015 16:04 PM

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