On a weekday at Chhatrapati Shivjai Terminus (CST), Naveen Tiwari, a porter, didn’t expect to have his dusty, cracked feet photographed.
“Had I known I would have put on a better pair of slippers,” said Tiwari evidently embarrassed about the worn-out pair he had on.
Until January 9, commuters at CST can choose to volunteer five minutes and their feet for a public art project called Foot Soldiers, conceptualised by artist Bidyut Singha. Each volunteer gets to take home a Polaroid portrait of their feet as a memento.
Foot Soldiers is one of five site-specific installations that are part of the Mumbai Festival (En)counters project initiated on January 3, in partnership with Hindustan Times.
The project aims to make art more accessible to the masses by drawing it out from the confines of a gallery.
“Mumbai has a flourishing art gallery scene, but the public doesn’t get to engage with art too often. Many artists work individually to blur the boundaries between low art and high art and for the first time we have brought some of them together,” said Claudio Maffioletti, co-founder of Art Oxygen, a contemporary art organisation responsible for (En)counters.
Bandra Bandstand, Haji Ali Dargah, Crawford Market, Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Café Leopold at Colaba are the five landmark locations chosen because they best represent the city’s dreams and contradictions and are ideal points for initiating a dialogue with people.
Delhi-based artists MSC Satya Sai, for instance, distributed 108 qurbani caps (skull caps) to devotees at the Haji Ali dargah.
“People were overwhelmed by the gesture. Some offered to pay money while others shared their life stories with me,” said Sai (33), who has previously distributed caps at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Dargah.
Industrial artist Neil Dantas distributed love seats and mats to couples canoodling on the sea swept rocks at the Bandra Bandstand.
“Bandstand has slums and space-starved couples but it’s fast becoming a space for sophisticated aunties and uncles. Soon it may not even be a makeout point. My work hopes to revive that dying history,” said 31-year-old Dantas, who encouraged couples to pen their stories and feedback on his colourful cane chattais.
(En)counters will also feature lectures by Mumbai’s cultural cognoscenti who will attempt to weave issues raised by these artworks with topics such as alienation, identity, migration and assimilation.