Weave through the bylanes and (what remains of) the quaint villages of Bandra and Khar, and wall murals stare at you from every corner. Spread across Ranwar Village, Chapel Road, Veronica Street and Chuim Village, the graffiti feature pop-culture icons: there’s Mario jumping on one wall; the late Madhubala frozen in time on another; and Amitabh Bachchan (in his incarnation as Vijay Verma from Deewar, 1975) on a third.
Bandra, the hub for all things new and on-trend, has seen more street art projects than any other neighbourhood in the recent past: Bollywood Art Project (BAP; in 2012); Visual Disobedience’s mural projects (2012-2014); Shilpa Gupta’s I Live Under Your Sky Too, a 32-feet wide public art installation on Carter Road (2013); St+art, Mumbai’s Magma Vol I & Vol II street art festival (November-December 2014); and the recent collaboration between Amsterdam Street Art and St+Art India Foundation (June 1 to 5).
Increasingly, though, mainstream art is also finding its way into Bandra. The neighbourhood now boasts of new alternative arts spaces such as The Hive and St Jude’s Bakery. The latest venue is south Mumbai’s popular art gallery Sakshi’s outpost, focusing on niche and alternative project-based artwork along with mainstream works.
Here’s the thing to ponder: just like the F&B scene over the last decade or so, is Mumbai’s art scene, too, shifting to Bandra?
Kala Ghoda and Colaba have, for years, formed the city’s art district. They house the revered (and some of the admittedly prissier) galleries, with artworks sporting famous signatures and startling price-tags. And some of which remain booked ahead for years (Jehangir Art Gallery, for instance). The art in Bandra-Khar, on the other hand, is younger. In other words, the walls there are more welcoming towards newer names, and therefore, the art is more affordable too.
In with the new (and the experimental)Sakshi Salon opened in mid-May this year. The move was significant since it was the first time a gallery with a Colaba pin-code decided it needs a sibling in the suburbs. It takes up the top floor of the Gauri Khan Studio in Khar, and is illumined with ambient light, and sunlight pouring in from the windows that offer a bird’s-eye view of the suburb. The 300 sq ft Sakshi Salon is miniscule compared to its south Mumbai counterpart — the 1,500 sq ft gallery.
The first show here was a group exhibition, from May 14 to June 13. It accommodated city-based artist Ratna Gupta’s works on the macabre beauty of decaying natural objects; Mumbai-based Nishant Shukla’s black-and-white photographs documenting departed loved ones; as well as Italian artist Elisabetta di Sopra’s unsettling video about objects in a house. The exhibits were experimental, and made the best use of the available space (for instance, a work in a corner looked like it was meant to inhabit a corner).
Their upcoming exhibition (opening on July 16) will feature works by young product designer Lekha Washington, who makes quirky furniture. Washington’s own studio, Ajji, is located in the neighbourhood, on Khar-Danda Road: “I chose Bandra because of the contrast between a village vibe with camaraderie, and yet a sense of being right in the heart of the city. It’s like the neighbourhood is young and old at the same time,” says Washington. Further tapping into the local talent pool (and by local, we mean Bandra, and not Mumbai), the Salon plans to host an exhibition of works by the artist community living in the suburb – including big names such as Jitish Kallat and Shilpa Gupta.
Like Washington says, the Bandra-Khar suburb is unique because of its mixed demographic. High-rises, hip coffee shops, eateries and bars are jostling for space alongside posh bungalows and quaint cottages. Naturally, it’s a melting pot of young people who are either creative or interested in things that are creative and hip – expats, Indians who have had stints abroad, even erstwhile residents of south Mumbai.
With such a discerning audience comes a certain refined, even westernised taste – and, therefore, a market – for art. “A lot of creative people live here, including graphic and fashion designers, artists and working professionals. It is close to Juhu (home to entertainment professionals and celebrities), so, it caters to the population in that area as well. It is a community in itself. People have been exposed to diverse forms of art and genuinely look forward to new events,” admits Sakshi Salon’s director, Geetha Mehra.
While on the one hand, there is an established gallery, a space like The Hive lies on the other end of the spectrum. The 4,500-square-feet alternative cultural spot on Chuim Village Road is spread across three floors. Their pop-up event, The Hive Community Festival, is held on the fourth weekend of every month, and comprises activities where the artists don’t just exhibit, but also host interactive workshops. In April, it hosted the group exhibit, Stop Making Sense, which featured paintings and sculptures. Recently, it hosted Passages (June 12 to 18) featuring works by self-taught artists, and workshops as well.
In Bandra’s Ranwar Village lies another space with a vision to make the best of the cultural blend of the suburb. You can’t miss the colourful outer façade of the St Jude Bakery, which announces, “Hey St Jude please help me, I am really a lost cause.” Once an iconic bakery, it was defunct till it was bought by restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani (in 2012), who transformed it into a venue for offbeat events. So far, it has been the operations centre for St+art Mumbai’s Magma street art festival, and it also hosted an exhibition of handcrafted tiles. Amlani says buying St Jude wasn’t a business decision. He simply wanted to conserve a slice of local heritage: “It’s a community arts project; there is no commercial angle to it. Cottages are making way for high-rises. The idea is to let something remain as it is.”
At the moment, it (indefinitely) houses the Gypsy Kitchen, a food and heritage conservation project, which invites housewives to share age-old recipes, and The Bandra Project by designer Ayaz Basrai, which maps the suburb’s heritage areas to show the correlation between heritage and pedestrian-friendliness.
Amlani believes that the suburb “is emerging as a contemporary art hub”. He hits the nail on the head when he says that “art in south Mumbai is different from Bandra. There, it is more about the older masters. Bandra is more edgy, affordable, urban and contemporary.”
Nurturing the art ecosystem further are places like What About Art? located on Bandra’s 29th Road. The multidisciplinary art space includes an international artists’ residency, two studios and a project space dedicated to video art. The two-year-old not-for-profit residency also hosts talks and workshops. Its French director Eve Lemesle (she was the curator at an art centre on Canal Saint-Martin, Paris, before moving here in 2008) thinks there is a symbiotic environment in the suburb: “There are lots of collaborations between the art spaces, and we support each other. We provide affordable spaces so that artists can practise and become a part of this dynamic scene.”
Independent curator Gitanjali Dang runs Khanabadosh, a travelling arts lab which has held projects at What About Art? The turnout for its event was “reasonable”: “Art projects are by no measure blockbusters, so we don’t expect droves. There’s a different crowd around here: young people from in and around the area who don’t make it to south Mumbai but are interested regardless.” As an example, she cites the Compasswallah’s History of Spirals workshop, which saw a dozen enthusiastic people turn up on a Sunday morning, much to the curator’s surprise.
Eat your art out
Art has also found a home for itself in the many eateries, cafes and bars in the area. Take your pick from Monkey Bar (where the ape is ever-present in the form of murals), Gostana (which has exhibited works by Ajungla Imchen), IBar (which hosts food and art pairings), and Pali Bhavan (with antique photographs lining the walls). Arpana Gvalani, owner of Gostana, one of the eateries where art mingles with food, mentions that many people show interest in the art exhibited at restaurants.
However, not all is well. Everyone wants to live in Bandra, and every restaurant worth its salt is trying to open here. The result? Real estate is prohibitively expensive. “The gentrification of Bandra is making it tough to manage finances. Not all artists are well-to-do. For them, it is no longer affordable, so they might be forced to move out,” observes Arjun Bahl of St+art India Foundation.Rents notwithstanding, succour comes from the spaces, and the people running them. We only collaborate with spaces we get for gratis and some people here are open to the idea," says Dang.
Looking for answers on the street is urban artist Harshvardhan Kadam, who travels and ‘performs a mural’. He works under the alias ‘inkbrushnme’ and has created murals at Nagrana Lane. His take is apt to sum up the art movement: “Bandra still has that flavour of ‘Bombay’ (sic), and that should not be lost. The area has the right vibe, but that will remain only if its locals and their interaction is made the central point while developing the area.”