Devon Streetscape Design project

Sketches, conceptualization of ideas

Sketches, conceptualization of ideas

I’ve been involved in a public streetscape design project through the Chicago Public Art Group for Devon Avenue. Devon is reputed to be the ‘Little India’ of Chicago with residential and business communities settled here. The goal was to work with urban designers, architects, engineers, City department of transport, the Alderman’s office and community to beautify the neighborhood through customized design. The entire project is scheduled through to 2020 but the detailed Phase1 of the proposal can now be found on the alderman’s website.

The idea was to first come up with three themes, break them up into concepts and then build them into design. The final goal was to have a few designs for Gateway identifiers, stamps on the street, seating pods and (budget permitting) some sculptures. The design had to be made keeping in mind cost-space considerations, outdoor conditions, vandalism and artwork safety and longevity.

The 3 broad themes I built upon were History as built environment, Celebrating traditions and Unity in Diversity. Once you look closer, Devon starts unfolding as so much more than ‘Little India’. It has many other south Asian communities- Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and other Jewish, Russian and Croatian communities here too. The goal was to have the design traditional in concept, include all communities and unite Devon instead of dividing it further. The colors that I wanted were rich jewel tones to complement the street and not add to the cacophony. I also wanted to link existing architecture to the new streetscape design. After much brainstorming, sketching, presentation preparation, meetings, the team made presentations to the alderman and community.

The enhancements are so much more than just aesthetic- there is focus towards place making and detailed attention given to existing issues and how they can be solved. Of course, there are a lot of naysayers who are dissatisfied about everything and a few people who ask mundane and silly questions- but coming from Mumbai where no one cares about anything but how to make a buck- it was great to work with government officials who actually seem to care about the community.

For me personally, it has been a great experience in learning how to work harmoniously in a group and how aesthetic enhancements can create pride in a community.

Street Still Life

I went for the Steve McCurry exhibit at the Taidehalle when I was in Helsinki. Besides fantastic compositions and capturing the soul of his subject- there was a short film on his using the last roll of Kodachrome film to capture images that meant something to him. To fulfill this quest, he decided to go to India, his chosen destination for vibrance of color, subject matter and diversity. Of course, the images both enthralled me and made me a bit nostalgic and homesick.

We’re so entrenched in the digital camera age, that its easy to take multiple shots and delete/ edit/ instragram/ share.  As I walked from the Taidehalle to the Museo Design in Helsinki, I challenged myself to take predetermined shots, with as much control as possible.  I’m always searching for compositions- in my head, in my surroundings. A simple setting, vibrant, with shapes, color and an intriguing subject matter was what I was looking for. An object in a setting that I could weave a story around.

So, if you had 36 shots left, what would you click?

 

No Entry

No Entry

Couch

Couch

up2

Ashtray

 

Art on Armitage: Work-Life Balance

Installing the ‘Haath Gaadi’

Art on Armitage is a window gallery in a predominantly working class and Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago. It brings art out of the confines of the traditional art gallery and into the realm of the public. It is reputed for demystifying and making art accessible and showcasing artists who have strong social messages to convey.

When I secured a space to show here, I decided to display a combination of installation and paintings. The paintings were from the ‘Burden of Dreams’ series. I used to photograph manual workers at construction sites- some of these images included them carrying heavy material on their back/ head/ shoulders and this became the starting point for ‘Burden of Dreams’.  Bricks, used in construction, unite to form walls used to divide spaces. They are the perfect metaphor to compliment the work. They also add weight to the paintings.

The installation was a haath-gadi that fluidly converts itself into a home/ sleeping bunker. The interior of the haath-gaadi- created by found strips of wood, plastic tarp and jute strings- is decorated with a good luck charm of the nimboo-mirchi, images of lord ganesha and hero-worship film posters. The tarp itself has graffiti-like scribbles of text from school books, poems and math equations. Labor in all developing nations has been the job of the poor- where you use your body rather than your mind to earn. I called it Work-Life Balance because of the irony- it is such a white-collar term and the life of these workers actually has no balance. Their time is spent struggling for survival and dreaming of a better future. At the time of installing this work, I was reading ‘Beyond the Beautiful Forevers’ a book by Katherine Boo, which was also a source of inspiration.

I am an avid reader, and stories form an essential part of my life. They can be escapist, yet thought provoking; a poem can alter my mood and reading an article can elevate me. Literacy is a privilege- though those who have it take it for granted and those who don’t can’t even begin to imagine how it could change their lives. The reason for using illegible text was to momentarily evoke the feeling of helplessness in the viewer that an illiterate person feels every day.

All these elements were things I’d already used before. It seemed logical that, in time, they would come together.

 

A trip to the city of Detroit

The Hart Plaza

I visit every city that my husband works in and this trip was to Detroit. I went there from Chicago on the Amtrak, my first long-distance train journey in the United States. A very comfortable one, with picturesque moments as we passed the great lakes and some incredible ones as the city approached- abandoned, dilapidated houses (called ‘blight’ by some locals), shattered panes of glass and huge lots filled with tyres and scrap metal cars. Walking through a deserted downtown, the city just has this feeling of a ‘has-been’. There were several silent moments for self-reflection- while I was the only person in a café for breakfast, or the only passenger in the compartment of the ‘people-mover’ or the only human at the plaza on the riverfront. There was so much ‘ruin porn’ to photograph and still I couldn’t make myself do it.  I would feel too much like one of those tourists who visit Mumbai and just take pictures of slums. It didn’t seem fair to be a visitor and do that to the city.

I am, however, posting an image from artist/ photographer Eric Holubow because I think this image manages to capture the essence whilst still being hopeful and wistful.

Room with a View, Eric Holubow

The highlight of the trip was a visit to the DIA- the Detroit Institute of Art which I happened to visit on the 80th anniversary of Rivera’s completion of the gorgeous Detroit Industry Murals. In a beautiful sunlit hall, there are 27 panels dedicated to the Detroit labor industry, the finest Mexican mural art in the United states. These murals depict industry and technology as the indigenious culture of Detroit. A detailed ipad tour outlines the thought process, ideas, and every conceivable insight into the work. It gave a feel of what the city might have been like in its prime and really helped to compile the history much better than any Wikipedia page ever could have.

Diego Rivera Court, DIA

 

A trip down memory lane: Sojat Road


A couple of years ago, I featured in a magazine article with another artist, Shruti Mahajan. While refurbishing my website, I chanced upon that article again. Her poignant re-creation of her childhood, led me down Sojat Road, Rajasthan- my nani’s home that I used to visit every summer as a kid. I love it when an artist can do that- make you look at their work- very personal reminiscences and make you take a trip down memory lane. In those days photography was not as rampant so I have to re-create this place in my thoughts and maybe someday on paper.

I remember… a large lawn with large trees with small white flowers that we plucked at 5am and wove into necklaces, a deep well that we used to remove water from to bathe in a large steel tub, those cobwebs in attics where everything was a treasure, the large coolers- that gave cool air and humidity, a typewriter on the second floor where we enacted plays that we scripted ourselves, jumping on rooftops playing hide and seek with cousins, trips to the market and hogs in the gutters on the street side, mosquito repellents and nets everywhere to save our tender city-skin. I recall that the first thing we saw when we woke up were peacocks, dancing on the rooftops where all the kids made their beds and the last thought at night being that I have never seen so many stars in the sky before- millions of them, twinkling. I recollect the taste of that early lunch made with fresh home-grown vegetables. I recall a man who came every evening at the same time to sell us fresh malai kulfi ice-cream and how all the neighbors used to gather if we played a movie on the television screen. I remember all the help, who were like family- drying papads, chilies and spices in the sun, cleaning, cooking and letting us children ‘help’ them.  

image credit backbackmojo.com


As I walk down this road in my head today, it invades my senses. I know when, if I go back- it will all be different. Some part evolution and some part recollections skewed from reality. Still, I look at kids today who will remember a childhood of IPad and X-box and I know I am fortunate to have what I do- even if it is just in my flailing memory.