13 youngsters from the slums tell their story through art
Part of the Nazaria Art Collective, Alfisha and her classmates have been on an art-fuelled journey for the past 18 months. Their second exhibition, at the Kathiwada City House in Worli on Sunday, showcased their photography, zines, rap videos and short films
MUMBAI: In an art exhibition, dominated by the works of tenth-graders from the slums of Shankarwadi in Jogeshwari, a zine or amateur magazine is titled ‘Kuch toh log kahenge (People will always talk)’. The zine is a collection of taunts that fly the way of youth from adults recreated as a collage of illustrations, comic-style text bubbles and cutouts. Hidden in little flapped envelopes are replies to the taunts.
“When we retort with taunts of our own, it is considered rude,” said Alfisha Mahaladbade, a 15-year-old who was one of the brains behind the concept. “So instead of staying silent, we thought of retorts that were polite. My favourite is ‘Kaam karke pahaad tod diya kya? (Do you think you’ve felled a mountain by doing a little work?)’ Our reply is, ‘Ghar pe pahaad kab aya tha? (When did a mountain come to our house?)’.”
Part of the Nazaria Art Collective, Alfisha and her classmates have been on an art-fuelled journey for the past 18 months. Their second exhibition, at the Kathiwada City House in Worli on Sunday, showcased their photography, zines, rap videos and short films.
Another zine, titled ‘Labour of love’, is almost an anthropological work about the migrant workers in their area. “One of the people we interviewed was a gola wala,” said 16-year-old Yazdaan Ansari. “We discovered that he had done his twelfth grade and had a job but wasn’t too successful in it, so he switched to his family trade of selling golas or ice-lollies. We wanted to highlight workers who’ve been around for years but who don’t command much respect because they’re seen as illiterate and poor.”
The Nazaria Arts Collective is the brainchild of two former Teach For India fellows, Ridhi Samant and Nandini Kochar. “We have a space in Shankarwadi called the Kahaani Lab, where we meet the kids every Saturday,” said Ridhi. “When we started, their perspectives of art were limited to drawing and painting, which we’ve broadened to include digital art, rap and even what is seen on Instagram.”
Starting with zine-making, photography and then graduating to filmmaking, the Collective is helmed by three core members, including freelance photographer Sapan Taneja, and five regular mentors. Sapan said he was amazed at how self-sufficient the children were and at the most needed help in the technical aspects of their art like editing or developing film. “I hardly feel like I’m teaching them,” he said. “They have consistently surprised me in how quickly they absorb and retain information and how good they are at it.”
Some children were initially a bit hesitant. “At first I was very scared at the workshops,” said 15-year-old Iqra Shaikh. “But I learnt so much, and now I love it.” Yazdaan admitted that before Nazaria, he had no idea that rap was a form of art. “But now it’s one of the forms I’m most interested in,” he said.
“The workshops have changed them tremendously,” remarked Ridhi. “They have developed confidence in their ideas and their art. Now that they know their art is valuable and people will spend money on it, they’re much more forthcoming with their ideas. Earlier we had to prompt them for responses.”
The music video for the rap song the children had made, titled ‘Basti ka heera’, was screened in the evening along with four other film projects. ‘While ‘Basti Ka Heera’ was on community, labour and women’s freedom, a short film on women’s safety and their agency, titled ‘Mera Haq’, was also screened. Another film, ‘Ruh’, followed the women in Shankarwadi who make tote bags out of waste cloth while ‘Ghus Pus’ was about the spread of whispers and gossip in their community.
The Collective doesn’t stop there though. With the aim of converging art with social justice, the question ‘what’ is always followed by a ‘why’. “As we’ve introduced them to topics of identity, voice and representation, their awareness of self has shown up in the art that they’ve made,” said Ridhi. One product of this is ‘Alfaaz’, a short film that is a poetic conversation on teenage love.
“I was a backbencher at school,” said Yazdaan, who worked on the film. “Nazaria has been completely life-changing for me. I now know my capabilities and my rights.” Added 17-year-old Heena Shaikh, “Nazaria is a safe space where I can express my thoughts and feelings and raise my voice for what I feel is important.”
This is apparent in another of the zines, arising out an experience of a taunt. “One of our friends, Mehak, was walking with us after school when two unknown ‘aunties’ commented on her laughing with boys despite wearing a burqa,” said Yazdaan. “So she made a zine on it, questioning why it affected her so much, what the connection of her burqa was to her friends, and what her reply to the aunties would be next time.”