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Re-imagining Mumbai’s urban landscape
BHANUJ KAPPAL  27th Apr 2013

A work by Amitabh Kumar

f you happen to be wandering around Sassoon Docks, or Byculla or the crowded lanes of Chor Bazaar, keep an eye out for any large black and white murals of elephants or fighter cocks. Or perhaps an ink stencil of strange, swirling shapes. These images are a part of 'Message To Zero', designer and artist Amitabh Kumar's first solo show at The Guild Art Gallery in Mumbai.

The concept is simple. Kumar, who is a founding member of the Delhi based comics ensemble The Pao Collective and has done large scale murals for the Pune and Kochi Biennales, spent the last month painting almost 50 black and white murals on building walls across Mumbai, which he calls his 'propositions to the public'. Now, he has recreated those murals on-site at the Guild, along with a pedestal in the centre of the gallery that enables you to take in the large scale drawings in a precise and comfortable setting. Accompanying the murals is a video documenting them in their original urban locations. Each drawing has been repeated about 8 times across different sites, creating a route that the artist hopes viewers will chart as they try to locate the murals.

Mumbai has little in terms of credible public art, and this show-cum-experiment is an attempt to change that; to get the viewer to start thinking about the urban landscape that they live in a little differently. "The show is trying to create a desire to re-imagine our urban spaces in a new way," says Kumar. "It doesn't want to map it, doesn't want to get into certain old discourses about urban theory. It wants you to think about the site where you stay in, through desire," he says.

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Given that the aim of the show is to get people to think about public art, it might seem ironic that it is being put up in the highly controlled and private space that is the contemporary art gallery

The title of the show refers to The Storyteller by Walter Benjamin, which Kumar interprets as a text about how story-telling or the consumption of stories as an activity is dying because people aren't interested in stories. They're interested in data, specific packets of information that can be easily relayed and consumed. "Because my practice exists in competition with all the hoardings, the posters and paraphernalia that you see on the street right now, it is trying to escape that easy consumption. There's nothing sadder than a consumed image. I wanted to escape that, so therefore there is no message," he says.

Given that the aim of the show is to get people to think about public art, it might seem ironic that it is being put up in the highly controlled and private space that is the contemporary art gallery. But Kumar believes that the gallery is the perfect setting to initiate such a conversation because it allows you to have a certain and very specific kind of relationship with the images inside a gallery, and it's through that relationship that he wants us to desire and look for these images in our public spaces.

He says, "With this show, the only intent is to engage with the larger public. The drawings in that sense are just a hook, to get your attention and to get you to start thinking in another way. I want people to think of urban landscape as a site where actual thoughtful interventions can happen. Art can actually travel outside; you don't need so much nuisance traffic around it."

And perhaps, once people start thinking of the city and its walls as a canvas for their imagination, they might actually try to make that imagination a reality.

Venue: The Guild, Mumbai

Date: Until 29 June

Timing:11am-7pm

 
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