At the busy entrance of the Palladium mall, Mumbai, artist Valay Shende is holding a sculpture exhibition. The exhibition titled Spirit of Bombay aims to capture the chaotic yet vibrant spirit of the Mumbai city. At display are five metallic sculptures, one of which depicts a ride on Virar Fast (the local train), two of them feature the Dabbawalas of Mumbai, and right in the centre of the exhibition are two shiny golden buffalos.
The exhibition, which previewed last night, will be open to the public till 18 August 2019. As mall hoppers browsed through the display windows at the stores in Palladium mall, Shende explained why he chose this unusual venue. "I wanted to break that traditional way of displaying art. Times have changed, so we have to move forward as well. I prefer displaying art in public spaces because it helps me approach people directly."
People too seemed quite taken by his work. Several stopped their shopping walks to click photos, while younger shoppers tried to fit the large-scale sculptures in their selfies. Although all of Shende's artworks had sidenotes explaining them in detail, the sculptures themselves were also pretty self-explanatory.
The Virar Fast shows many men squished together in a train compartment, holding on to invisible hand bars above them. The Dabbawalas are made of miniature clocks, which is a nod to their punctuality and time management skills. Shende explained that the two golden buffaloes in the exhibition represented 'the rapid unplanned urbanization of Mumbai.' Mumbai is chaotic in many ways, this exhibition only depicts an aspect of it.
In 2015, Shende had a solo show in Paris that was completely dedicated to Mumbai.
"From Dabbawalas, dhobis to rickshaws -- all the special characters of Mumbai were elements of that show. I previewed that show particularly for the working class people. A continuation of that series is on display here." said the artist.
For Shinde art is a language, and like most languages, he likes his art to be clear and precise, so the meaning is not lost during communication. "I do not like confusion in art. So, I always make a clear statement. I want my artworks to freeze the current times so that the coming generations can look back and study our time period through my arts." added Shende. That is partly the reason he used metallic elements to construct his sculptures -- they are not only durable but also representative of the current times. They are shiny too, which attracts eyes easily, he pointed out.
Apart from Shinde's works, the legendary Dabbawalas of Mumbai received another cultural nod at the preview of this exhibition, as 90's pop star, and the owner of SodaBottleOpenerwala, Anaida, unveiled a comic book, Dabbawala Superhero as a tribute to them. The book, 10,000 copies of which have already been published in English and Marathi, was conceptualized by Anaida and scripted by Dishka Kini. The illustrations of the comic book has been done by the artist, Abhijeet Kini.
"Almost a decade ago, the Dabbawalas had done an initiative called 'Share My Dabba' to feed the street children. They gave all their clients a bunch of stickers and asked them to put the sticker on their tiffin boxes whenever they had extra food left in them. The dabbawalas would take this extra food and give them to street children, and bring back the dabbas to their owners on time. Ever since that initiative, I have been their fan, to me they are real celebrities, and I wanted to do something to honour them. They really are superheroes for the right reasons." said Anaida.
Anaida confessed that being a musician, her first instinct was to do a song about the dabbawalas, but she later decided on a comic book that would celebrate them. She also revealed that the entire proceeds of the comic book will go to the Dabbawalas.
Talking about the Dabbawalas, Abhijeet Kini, the illustrator of Dabbawala Superhero said, "The book explains why Dabbawalas are no less than superheroes in Mumbai. They give such punctual service and deliver home-cooked food to workplaces, satiating the hunger pangs of thousands every day. I think it is no less than a superpower, " he added.
Talking about Shende's sculptures and the comic book, the President of Mumbai Dabbawala, Ullas Shantaram Muke said, "It was amazing that the Putlas (dolls) were made of clocks to show our time management skills. We Dabbawalas have been around for almost 130 years, but it was only after Prince Charles' visit that the public began to know us. Now, with a comic book calling us superheroes, we not only feel very happy but also very honoured."
Spirit of Bombay is a sculpture exhibition at Palladium, Mumbai. The exhibition, by artist Valay Shende, is free and open to the public. It will end on 18 August 2019.