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Giving faces to the shadows that lurk in Dharavi
SHWETA SHARMA  30th Jan 2011

Murals by the Artefacting India team

hen Brooklyn-based trio visual artist Alex White-Mazzarella, videographer Casey Nolan and photographer Arne de Knegt first stepped into the meandering lanes of Asia's biggest slum, little did they know that the vague notions of Dharavi they had would slowly evolve into a much more nuanced understanding, as they built a multi-pronged interaction with the inhabitants of this place. Three months later, they are sure, there is no danger here. "Stepping into Asia's biggest slum meant holding my shoulder bag in front of me and snapping around to see who was behind me. Today, our artistic journey has altered that mind set. Perhaps we'll see it differently when we return home," says White-Mazzarella.

Their team is busy transforming Dharavi by creating a dialogue between this thriving cosmopolitan sub-culture and the people on 'the other side' of it. Their project, Artefacting Mumbai is an intervention, cultural exchange and is a celebration of life using art to engage the marginalised communities of Dharavi.

"For this project, we decided to zone in on the industrial recycling district in Dharavi known as the 13th Compound. The story is being narrated from our perspective and is dedicated to the people and the place they call their home. We chose a multi-media programme to share what we learnt during our winter stay in Dharavi and we feel that this way we can spark more interest concerning the issues surrounding this slum and the people living in it," Nolan told Guardian20.

Our work is centred on the collision of ideals. The Dharavi Menswear Collection is a set of photographs that presents industrial workers as fashion models. - Alex White-Mazzarella

For three months, they have been working to create a visual art, photography and video project that narrate their Dharavi experience. They will deliver this material to the Western world via multi-media exhibitions through interactions with the viewers that helps them "re-experience" Dharavi.

"Our work is centred on the collision of ideals. The Dharavi Menswear Collection is a set of photographs that presents industrial workers as fashion models. *And 'I Life' is a concept we have been exploring to describe Western aspirations of being in control of life and being able to construct our identities from ideas. We're making an ILIFE mural to showcase in Dharavi, a context where if you fail to interact with the people around you there may not be a great chance for survival," says White-Mazzarella.

Casey adds that the main aim behind the project is humanity. "We are putting a face to the shadow figures living in this area. We are trying to show that this community of blue-collar workers isn't all that different from the industrial workers of Detroit, Amsterdam or Moscow. In a sense, we are celebrating a group of people who have been largely ignored by Mumbai's racy modernisation process."

This multi media exhibition has transformed Dharavi into a maze of sweat shops, recycling work camps and migrant-fuelled industries that explore the collision between the individualist ideals of the West and the collective living culture of a slum. Their final experiences will be exhibited in New York and Oregon in April.

*This article was edited on 31/01/11 after an error was discovered in the original matter. We are sorry for any inconvenience caused.

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