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Giving identity to Maximum City’s hopeful immigrants
NIDHI GUPTA  24th Nov 2012

n 1981, the state of Maharastra and the Bombay Municipal Council moved to evict pavement and slum dwellers, seeing them as something of a nuisance and a sore blemish on the face of a city transforming itself into a megalopolis. In the case of Olga Tellis vs. the State, this call to burn down hutments and send them back to their homeland was, thankfully, halted in 1985.

Martand Khosla, architect by profession and artist by choice, has evoked the finer points of this petition in his debut solo exhibition — City of Hope. In four installations going by the same name, he has used the text from the petitioner's case, wrapping it in strips around a mesh of wire, superimposed on a geographical space that in turn is suspended in mid-air. Even as the words 'pavement', 'livelihood', 'right', 'dignity' and 'metropolis' jump out at you, the most intriguing thing about the installation remains the red sacred thread tied around the centre in each one, symbolising the hope and prayers of migrants who arrive at urban centres looking to fulfil their aspirations.

"About 3-4 years ago, I began to have a series of interactions with the people who worked at construction sites. At the same time, I also got an insight into how the cops, government and even the judiciary looked at the process of urbanisation. In this build-up, I felt impelled to comment upon the dichotomy between the myth of India Shining and this dreadful reality. And it is not a process specific to India — you'll find the same thing happening in Karachi or Rio," explains Khosla.

Thus, in this two-part exhibition, curated by Deeksha Nath, Khosla has sought to find metaphors for this condition, specific to developing economies that are still driven by archaic ideas, in the materials and blocks of construction. While the 'Liminal State' series uses scaffolding with joints to signify the fragile holding together of the worker's hopes and dreams, the chappals in 'Men Climbed High' are the epitome of irony — they might scale heights to build and stock, but their aspirations aren't allowed to take flight.

Khosla also imagines their homes in the miniature glass boxes, each carrying a single object — a TV, a fan, a bed, a desk and chair, a pair of slippers — most likely to be found in their personal spaces.

He has used brick dust most prominently — spray painting it on the portraits, scattering it on the ground under 'From to Function' to indicate the pointlessness of it all, moulding it into the tools and architecture of the workers' own homes. "Brick has been around for hundreds of years and, as a material, it evokes a sense of nostalgia. It has an emotional and aesthetic appeal not to be found in cement or steel, for instance," he elucidates. He also says that he wanted to make the work "confrontational", and using brick dust helped him to create symbols of grief and hope, devastation and construction at the same time.

On the whole, 'City of Hope' is a thought-provoking display of the inequalities that fester in the gaps of a badly constructed myth of development. In his reconsideration of the site, Khosla is looking for that transformative moment which will perhaps change this reality.

Venue: Seven Art Gallery

Date: Till 1st Dec, 2012


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