Slumgods turn Dharavi 180 degrees

slumgods

2008 was the year of Slumdog Millionaire and street urchins jumping into pools of shit. 2009 was the year Akash Dhangar inverted the idea of Dharavi with his hip-hop inspired group ‘Slumgods’. Right here in the alleys of Dharavi is an emerging culture of breakdancers, hip-hoppers, rappers and graffiti artists. “When I told people I am a slum dweller, they treated me badly. Now, when I introduce myself to people as a breakdancer, then think I am cool and ask all kinds of questions. How do you do that? Where did you learn? Do you give classes? It makes a difference to my life and to others’,” says Akash.

Sturdy and speaking only when spoken to, Akash hails from a once-nomadic community known as the Kunchi Kurve and speaks Kaikadi, a mix of Dravidian languages. On the floor, Akash comes alive with a performance of b-boy lingo. He downbrakes and leaves your nerve endings in a tizzy. This 21 year old breaker learnt his moves from Netarpal ‘Heera’ Singh, a US based BBoy who was teaching slum children in Dharavi in early 2009.

“There are no restrictions in hip-hop. It’s all about freedom and all about peace. You mix your moves and you find your own style,” says Akash. In the early years of the crew’s inception, Akash was either battling with life or battling with dance. It’s all fine now, he says, as Slumgods has helped him learn English, become more confident and also brought in some financial support.

This crew is not just about cool moves, though. Addicted to the sound of the machines and juggling of beats, Sagar Vatapu learnt DJing and met Akash in 2011. Sagar, while not a resident of Dharavi, belongs to a family that has seen some hard times. On most days, Sagar is at Akash’s place or with a small bunch of comfortably dressed Europeans in street corners. He founded the tourist guide branch called Slumgods Tours and Travel, which is sought out by a substantial number of foreign tourists.

While Sagar breaks when he finds the time, he introduces the congested heart of our slum to tourists gracefully. But this is no trip into understanding impoverished India. “When you think Dharavi, you think shanties, corrugated iron sheets, tarpaulin, marshy land and mafias. Truth is, when you walk down Dharavi, you realise it is like the rest of Mumbai – there are roads, people are educated, we have vehicles. And it’s not just foreigners who have this negative idea about Dharavi. A lot of Indians think the same thing,” says Sagar. Walk down a lane in Dharavi, observes Sagar, and you will find that no one is begging here. They may be making papads or pots, but everyone is doing something here.

At Colour Box, the Slumgods crew teaches young children how to be BBoys. You can easily picture these boys someday in some street cipher, executing moves and rapping beats with great ease. For now, they believe they are stunt performers. But they know that hip-hop is all about brotherhood, peace and friendship.

Colour Box is now open

The doors to our new gallery Colour Box are now open!

We had a noisy little ceremony to inaugurate our workshop and exhibition space and it was well-attended by dozens of Dharaviites. The narrow front entrance was very crowded with people wanting to participate in the traditional aarti ritual and the breaking of the coconut. After the auspicious beginning (we didn’t quite manage to smash the coconut into smithereens as we hoped to), we rushed into the two floored house.

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People from Dharavi were very excited to step into Colour Box and we hope to have some friendly neighbourhood sessions soon. We have left the interiors of the gallery a little raw, so that it can be changed over and over again to suit exhibition designs. On the ground floor, we had exhibited the stunning Provoke/Protect sarees, festoons of health posters, the dream girls cutouts and the letters recycled from waste fabric. 

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There is a charming little fleet of stairs that lead to the upper floor and we had exhibited the comics corner (which turned into a cafe of sorts), the story grills and artworks from our previous exhibition Ghar Pe (which took place in 2012). The sprawling space upstairs looked colourful and evoked the curiosity of every visitor.

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More than 350 people attended the inaugural of Colour Box. We are now looking at some upcycled/recycled furniture to put into the space.

Banjara women with their pretty bags

Near Colour Box, our brand new workshop and exhibition space in Dharavi, we found this group of Banjara women who work as labourers. They were taking a break from carrying cement and kept themselves occupied by doing some very intricate embroidery with beads. They embroidered patches of jeans which looked psychedelic and stunning. These are recycled pieces which some women do very painstakingly as wedding gifts to other women in the community. They have little bells and mirrors worked into them as well. We asked if these were for sale and the women replied that these weren’t. We hope to call them soon to one of our workshops and share their embroidery skills with us.

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Just a few hours to go for our inaugural!

We inaugurate our new gallery and workshop space in a few hours and this post is going to be a rush. The whole team worked hard in the last three days and we spent last night scrubbing the floors of our house. It is right in Kumbharwada, the potters’colony in Dharavi, and on the main road, so cleaning it up was quite a big deal.

There is a lot of excitement about this new house. I suppose we ourselves haven’t quite fully understood the possibilities of this space. It is Dharavi. It is about art. It is about health and gender. This could mean any number of things – this is where Dharavi artists can exhibit their works, this is where artists beyond Dharavi can come and experiment with the tons of unique materials available in Dharavi.

Much thanks to our new project coordinator, Dipesh Thakker, who has been a fantastic events manager. We were conversing about careers on our way back and Dipesh told me that he had a job in finance which he left to do something ‘exactly’ like this. On most days, the truth is, it doesn’t feel like a job. There is sure a lot of pressure but with things like setting up a gallery space or networking with Dharavi people – it feels more like a passion.

These are scattered thoughts just before our inaugural. This is truly our starting point, our platform of stability, a space for experiment and exhibitions. We have put up current and previous artworks on the ground and first floors. And we have truly gone gaga like children with a new toy. Visit our Colour Box this evening 🙂

Colour Box is our new house!

We have a brand new house right in the potters’ community in Dharavi. Our potter friend, Devanand, is loaning it to us for a couple of years and we are currently in the process of deconstructing and reconstructing it. It is a two-storey house that will become our workshop, office and gallery space and we are so stoked about it! After several discussions, we decided to christen it Colour Box, with a mild unintended pun on Kala Box. We tore down a couple of walls to make space for exhibitions but we are attempting to retain as many of the original details of the house as possible. It has old-world terracotta tiles on the ground floor, ceramic tiles lining the walls, a few stairs leading up as if the upper floor were an attic and a door on the upper floor that opens into nowhere. We are right amidst the winding lanes of Kumbharwada and we are particularly happy to have a space right in the midst of the communities that we work so closely with.

If imagining the house is too much but not enough, do drop in this Sunday for the inaugural programme at 5.00pm.

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