The SoBo art trail: Exploring Mumbai’s art district

It never ceases to amaze me how much I unconsciously internalise popular perceptions without even realising it. Take for instance, Mumbai’s art scene.

Till about 3 weeks back, if somebody had asked me about Mumbai’s art scene, I would have said how it was not very vibrant, unlike Delhi. Or Bangalore. Or Chennai. I might have cited the absence of good art galleries, beyond the couple of famous ones that I knew. I  would have also said something about the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, and then probably ended by mumbling something about not knowing much about my city’s artscape.

All I can say of the above para is that only the last line is correct — I really don’t know anything about my city’s art scene. As for the rest, I was only repeating the general impression about Mumbai’s art scene based on what I read and discussions with like-minded people.

I realised how misplaced my knowledge was when I received an invitation from Pia of Good Homes India to participate in a blogger art trail (essentially a guided tour of 5 of South Bombay’s prominent art galleries) as part of their Public Art Week initiative. The invite was intriguing enough, but what caught my attention were these lines:

The galleries we are looking at covering are Gallery7, Sakshi art gallery, Gallery Maskara, 1/29 Studio Gallery and Art Musings. The mix is interesting and so is the art.

With the exception of Sakshi Gallery (which I had never been to), I hadn’t even heard of the other art galleries. And to think all these galleries were concentrated in South Bombay (SoBo), also known as the city’s art district. This I had to see for myself !

I had no hesitation in accepting the invitation even though it was at such short notice necessitating taking half-a-day off from work. So, on November 28th, a mixed group of 10 odd design, food, art and travel bloggers gathered at The Pantry for high tea before setting out on the art trail.

Art Trail, Gallery Maskara, Mumbai

Gallery 7, Mumbai, Art Trail. Krishna Murari
“Story Teller” – Leather fur on fiber glass and surgical implements by Krishna Murari

The art trail began with a visit to Gallery 7, which had showcased 7 artists, each one using a different medium of expression — installation, sculpture, painting, photography, video, etc. While all the artworks were very interesting, two of them stood out for me.

The first was the intriguing sculpture on the left, “Story Teller” — a furry human arm holding surgical implements — by Krishna Murari. It is supposed to represent “the bitter story or truth of the underprivileged members of society. Their rights are out of reach and how politicians and policy makers treat them like animals”. Hmm… while I respect the artist’s vision, I’m not sure if I agree with his interpretation.

The second was a photograph by Sanjay Tawade. I loved the perspective, the colours and how something so ordinary, and every day, has been turned into an extraordinary work of art.

Gallery 7, Mumbai. Sanjay Tawade, Art Trail
From the “City Eyes” series by Sanjay Tawade
Art Musings, Art Trail, Mumbai, Gopi Krishna
“Master and dog quenching thirst” by Gopikrishna

The next gallery we visited was Art Musings, which is reportedly one of the oldest galleries in the area. Tucked away in a little lane in Colaba, it is one of those places that can easily be missed unless one is aware of its existence.

Here I was introduced to the work of an artist, I’m ashamed to say now, I had never heard of before: Gopikrishna. A surreal artist, his paintings are mysterious, fantastical worlds which left me wondering about the difference between real and surreal. Take the painting on the right, for instance. Against the backdrop of a bleak landscape, a man and his dog are quenching their thirst. There is really no difference between master and dog in the way they are drinking water. If anything, the dog looks more dignified than his master ! I am not a fan of surreal art, but after seeing Gopikrishna’s work, I have changed my mind. 🙂

The gallery had a treat in store for our group. They arranged for a sneak preview of a forthcoming exhibition of paintings by Paresh Maity. (Note: The exhibition was forthcoming at the time of our visit. In the month that has passed since then, Maity’s work was shown at the Jahangir Art Gallery and is now back at Art Musings). I had only seen Maity’s portraits earlier, and the brilliant landscapes we got to see at the preview made me feel very special.

Art Musings, Art Trail, Mumbai, Paresh Maity
Landscape by Paresh Maity
Art Trail, Mumbai, Gallery Maskara
At the entrance to Gallery Maskara

Gallery Maskara, our next stop,came as a complete surprise. Neither the whimsical painting at the entrance (see the photo on the left) nor its regular gallery entrance gave any indication of the huge space it enclosed. In its previous avatar, I could imagine the gallery as a warehouse or an over-sized garage or even an airplane hangar. Yes, it’s that big !

The concrete flooring, the cavernous space, industrial type lighting, and the minimal artwork on the walls made it a delightful, but very different, experience from the other galleries. I loved Roshan Chhabria‘s works on tinted paper which, at the first casual glance, looked more like a preparatory doodle for something bigger, but were actually THE works of art. 🙂

Art Trail, Mumbai, Gallery Maskara
Gallery Maskara
Art Trail, Mumbai, Gallery Maskara
Artist: Roshan Chhabria

Sakshi Gallery was next on our trail and I walked into the gallery to see psychedelic pops of colours on the walls. These were paintings by Anirban Mitra, whose début exhibition it was. It took me a while get used to the bright, kitschy colours of his canvases before the rich imagery started to appear.

I particularly liked ‘Exhibition of Kalighat Painting in Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata’ where Mitra explores the relationship between a coloniser and the colonised in the post-colonial context through a series of images across times juxtaposed next to each other and yet forming a narrative.

Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai, Anirban Mitra
Exhibition of Kalighat painting at Victoria Memorial Hall by Anirban Mitra

Lakeeran Gallery was not in the original list of galleries on the art trail, but I’m very glad we made a stop there as I was able to see an exhibition of contemporary art from Mexico called “Transcendental Evocations”.

I particularly liked the work of the artist Armando Miguilez, who divides time between Mexico City and Mumbai, and whose work depicts the connection and similarities between the two cities. He has photographed buildings in both the cities and put them up in such a way that the viewer does not know where the buildings are: Mumbai or Mexico City. I found the concept behind this artwork very interesting.

Lakeeran Art Gallery, Art Trail, Mumbai, Armando Miguelez
Transcendental Evocations by Armando Miguelez
1/29 Studio/Gallerie, Art TRail, Mumbai
An installation of hats !

It was well past 8 pm when we arrived at the last gallery on the trail, also the newest gallery on the block — 1/29 Studio/Gallerie. 1/29 had been open for just a week or so and had the major objective of being a space for any kind of experimental art — visual or performing. Towards the former they had an eye-catching installation of different headgears in wire mesh by Isha Ahluwalia.

And towards the latter was the last surprise for the evening — a music performance for our group, and the first of the many that 1/29 hopes to have in the future. Mynah Marie (on the accordion) and Jake Charkey (on the electric Cello) played for us and to my regret, I was unable to stay for the full performance as I had a long commute back home.

1/29 Studio/Gallerie, Art TRail, Mumbai
(L) Mynah Marie on the accordion and (R) Jake Charkey on the electric Cello
Art Trail, Curator
Elise

The art trail was curated and led by Elise Foster Vander Elst, Director of Asia Art Projects. Though we had representatives from each gallery talking to us about the art and artists exhibited in their galleries, I found Elise’s insights and tips very helpful. I learnt more about my city’s art scene from her in that one evening than I have in all my years in Mumbai.

Thank you Elise. The blogger art trail you led has to be, without doubt, one of the most enriching experiences I have had in recent times. 🙂

To discover (okay not exactly discover by myself, but you know what I mean, right?) and explore such a rich variety of art left me feeling giddy with happiness. But importantly it gave me a lot to think about — the art trail itself, the different galleries visited, the artwork I saw, the artists… but most of all my perception of Mumbai’s art scene and how wrong I was.

There are times when I love being proven wrong. This was one of them 🙂

20 thoughts on “The SoBo art trail: Exploring Mumbai’s art district

  1. As I said when we spoke, we must do this trail together whenever I am in Mumbai. 🙂 Your post has made me want to see Mumbai in a different light because even I did not believe there were such interesting art galleries tucked in such corners of the city. Also would like to see more of Sanjay Tawade’s photgraphy. It is really interesting. Thanks a lot for introducing. 🙂

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    1. Atula, as I told you before I have declared 2014 as the year to meet you. 🙂 I hope you can make it to Mumbai this year or we will definitely meet when I am in your city next. 🙂

      I would like to see more of Sanjay Tawade’s work too and am keeping my eyes peeled for any further exhibition that features his work.

      It will be fun to do the art trail with you and to see the other galleries in the area as well. Now, when are you coming to Mumbai? 🙂

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  2. beautiful post, Sudha! as usual!!! and a much awaited one!!!! I absolutely loved that ‘common man in a gallery’ and also the kalighat one… wish i could have seen them in the gallery too… and i hope this year we can do this gallery trail together 😀

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    1. You’ve said it perfectly. Shraddha. Mumbai never ceases to surprise and it’s also a city that I can never claim to know it inside out. 🙂

      The art trail was great fun. But the biggest learning I took away from the experience is that one has to keep an open mind where creativity is concerned. And also, it is not just the art work, but also the space that displays it, the philosophy behind curating a collection – everything contributes to the overall exhibition 🙂

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  3. Sounds like a very interesting evening Sudha !I think it would come as no surprise to you when I tell you that my favourites from this post are City Eyes and common man in a gallery 😀

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  4. I was really intrigued when you narrated your experience. Now reading your post, I realise that Mumbai has a much richer and vibrant art scene than I had known. It was a wonderful experience walking the galleries with you. That shows how well you write lady.
    Armando Miguelez is amazing. I loved the Kalighat painting by Anirban Maitra.
    Let us go and visit the Gallery Maskara sometime soon.

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    1. Mumbai rocks, Neena. And the city never ceases to surprise as well. 😀

      The Kalighat panting was very fascinating – once I could keep my eyes open and look at the psychedelic colours. And why visit only Gallery Maskara, the others are interesting as well !

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  5. I would be a hypocrite if I said I understood the art exhibits, but I loved the post as I could share your joy at discovering something about your city through the words. Of all the exhibits, I loved the first one the most, for its vibrant colours (laddoos, right?) and the one where the girl is hanging upside down 🙂 The latter because I am intrigued by the artist’s motive in making it.

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    1. I love art, but I don’t understand it all. I love the creativity, the expression and the fact that the artist has managed to convery something that is quite abstract through art. Over the years, if there is something that I have learnt about art, it is to be open to all kinds of expression and appreciate the thought behind it. 😀

      Those are not laddoos, put pani puris. I don’t think I would have liked the photo as much if they were laddoos 😛

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    1. A very warm welcome to my blog, Anirban, and also thank you so much for you comments. Yes, I liked your paintings very much and from the other comments on the post, you can see that others liked it too. 🙂

      Thank you also for sending the link to your blog, which I will visit at leisure.

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