Where are you really from? An art show traces the history of migration
When Rahul Srivastava and Matias Echanove embarked on the Mumbai Return project five years ago, they didn’t expect to come across Mumbaiites with ties that still bound them to ancestral villages.
“Even after two or three generations here, families have extensive relationships back in villages, despite the prevailing belief that rural-urban migration is a one-way street,” says Srivastava, co-director of the design collective, urbz. “Some younger people in our ethnographic study said they don’t want the village to become the city. The distance is part of what allows both places to retain specific qualities.”
This ‘loop’ between Mumbai and villages in the Konkan is explored in Mumbai Return: Journeys Beyond the City, a collection of photographs, installations and artistic renderings of rural homes and urban settlements.
Urbz, which also has bases in Goa, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Geneva, and Bogota, had explored the urban-rural loop in Circulatory Lives, at the Center for Contemporary Art in Bordeaux and in Geneva. But India, Srivastava underlines, is a different beast because of the degree of mobility the Indian Railways offers.
One of the installations at the Bhau Daji Lad museum, titled ‘Design Comes As We Build’, showcases an architectural model of a typical Mumbai chawl, juxtaposed with a model home with essentially the same structure. The essence is to highlight how traces of ‘urban living’ are now seen in some Konkan villages.
“One hamlet had piped water supplied from a well. This was constructed by a ‘Mumbai-return’ family. On the other end of the spectrum, you also see Mumbai-style flats all over,” explains Srivastava. “Villages are increasingly becoming part of the urban realm but they have also, so far, preserved a different relationship to space and the environment.”
Urbz’s work in Dharavi, Naigaon and Bhandup, where many residents hail from Ratnagiri district, is what birthed Mumbai Return. But the exhibition, Srivastava concludes, invites all Mumbaiites to reflect on their rural roots and consider “a rereading of the history of migration in India”.