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art pilgrimage mumbai
The Artist, Mumbai
Nalini Malani

In the last five years many more artists have The art schools are still following the old move away forever seemed like a huge step
come to Bombay (I always say Bombay, not nineteenth-century academic tradition inherited to make. It was a time of nation building, and
Mumbai; the latter kind of erases history and from the British in India. In the days when I national pride. I then found a studio in Bombay
imposes the parochial which is not even factual) wanted to study art in Bombay, the very in an area where they have many wholesale
to live and work, because there are many more concept of being an artist was a vague one. markets; it was called Lohar Chawl, which
galleries. The galleries have become much more I went to art school in the 1960s to make means ironsmith market. It’s row after row of
professional than they were before: the quality medical drawings to illustrate medical books; electrical goods, hardware, different kinds of
of exhibiting, of display and installation, has the idea that I would become an artist came ropes, sailcloth and so on. It’s somewhat
improved hugely. The city is a peninsula, and in much later in life. At that time there wasn’t a ghettoised – there’s a row of streets that is only
the northern suburbs there are areas where strong community of artists. Right after Hindu and then one that is only Christian – but
artists have taken over warehouses and have Independence, many of the artists known as the there are incredible mixtures in the public
studios and so on. It’s very interesting to visit – Bombay Progressive Group left for the UK or spaces. I made a whole series of work on this
it’s called Borivali, and several young artists, Europe, rather than remaining – as happened in area, and that is what really made me stay on
especially sculptors, have very large places. Mexico, for example – to create work that would here. All my energy comes from here – the
The economy is going upwards, which represent the new nation. cauldron of mixtures. Of course in this day and
of course leads to more people in the business When I was a student I was very lucky to age one isn’t really rooted to one place.
community wanting to acquire art. There have get a studio in my second year, when I was only My work Hamletmachine [1999–2000,
been many more collectors – serious ones – eighteen, in a place where there were several a video piece about the rise of Hindu
emerging. The other good thing is that we have artists from theatre, music and dance. It was very fundamentalism] hasn’t been shown in India.
an art district. Old art galleries have expanded, multidisciplinary. I would work behind the scenes We do have a very strong extremist group –
and new ones are showing younger artists and in the theatre, which was a great experience. For Hindu fundamentalists – who are very
very avant-garde art along a route called me that was more like art school than the official destructive. This becomes an issue that leads to
Colaba, starting from the National Gallery of school where I studied. I did workshops in my self-censorship among not only artists, but
Modern Art and going right to the tip of the own studio, because I felt it was important to writers and those working in cinema. This group
peninsula. It’s a great art walk, with 12 or so have artists meet and discuss. I think other artists can become very violent and have smashed
galleries in the area, including the particularly did that, too, in other parts of India. We initiated down exhibitions. We haven’t as yet found a
young and exciting Chatterjee & Lal, which a number of projects in this way. way artists can gather together and become
shows video and performance. On the whole, After my studies I went to France for a force against it.
it is these galleries, rather than any changes in three years – this was soon after 1968, so there In terms of audience today in Bombay,
the educational system, which are contributing was a lot of ‘zeitgeist’. You could go for coffee the white cube is still very daunting for the
an alternative scene and different ways of with people like Simone de Beauvoir, it was very person on the street. He or she would not walk
working and showing. casual. Yet India was a young country, and to into such a space. However, it’s the alternative
scene that is gathering momentum. Warehouse
spaces are being taken for alternative
performances. Things like this are helping to
change the environment. It’s very slow, though.
I feel a bit negative that we haven’t been able
to create more awareness in the public space,
as yet. We do not have state sponsorship
as there is in the West; everything is supported
by galleries and artist initiatives. But these
are people who bring in their own money.
The great thing is that the younger
galleries are supporting noncommercial
projects. This is what is so exciting.
Nalini Malani is an artist who lives and works
in Mumbai
Ketaki Sheth, Bombay Mix
(installation view, bodhi art
gallery, mumbai), 2008
artreview 118
Pilgrimage_Delhi/Mumbai.indd 118 8/2/08 12:52:53
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