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Mumbaiwale: A photo show that’s off the beaten path

A weekend-only photo exhibition offers new views of the heritage buildings we don’t often notice

Updated: Jul 27, 2019 16:41 IST

By Rachel Lopez, Hindustan Times

Images from Mumbai Is Upgrading, a show that focuses on lesser-known Mumbai structures. (Images courtesy Aaran Patel and Jeff Nelson)

If you’re in the Fort area on a weekend morning, you’ll know the place is overrun with DSLRs. You’ve seen the shots even before they’re taken: The Gateway reflected in a puddle, a bus trundling by CSMT station, a grey day and bright umbrella on Marine Drive.

There’s more to Mumbai, and more of us are starting to see it. Photographer and educator Aaran Patel teamed up with musician and visual artist Jeff Nelson to present heritage structures and neighbourhoods that don’t usually make it to the #DiscoverMumbai photo roll. Through 20 works, Mumbai is Upgrading (a title borrowed cheekily from Mumbai Metro construction signage) blends photography and digital manipulation to make you look twice at parts of the city you didn’t even notice once.

Patel and Nelson look through the windows of Mahalaxmi’s crumbling Shakti Mills to find the modern gleaming Minerva residential complex. They deconstruct the details on Kala Ghoda’s Esplanade Mansion so you notice its distinctive architectural style. The façade of the Cotton Association Building in Cotton Green becomes, in stacked repetition, a new building entirely.

Recognise this facade? It’s the Cotton Association building in Cotton Green, a neighbourhood off the usual heritage trail. ( Images courtesy Aaran Patel and Jeff Nelson )

“We were interested in the changing notions of space and heritage, particularly after the city’s construction boom,” says Patel. “People tend to see clean and restored buildings as our heritage, not the gritty, crumbling ones. And we tend to zoom past certain neighbourhoods without noticing them.”

Nelson, who is also an EDM producer, says the perception of Mumbai’s visual landscape has gone through so many revisions that we often forget a building’s original purpose. His treatment of the photographs – some even include orbs where people should be – imagine what Patel calls “elements of the future”. “It’s a post-human scenario, which gives the areas a meditative quality – even Sewri fort looks like a different monument,” Nelson says.

Esplanade Mansion, the erstwhile Watson’s Hotel, in Kala Ghoda is falling apart but still part of the city’s heritage. ( Images courtesy Aaran Patel and Jeff Nelson )

Who’d have thought you’d be able to see the future in Mumbai’s old, ignored buildings? Patel says it’s easy to guess where Mumbai is headed when you consider the way the city was built in the 19th century, when areas were planned and merchants funded public projects, and what passes for civic infrastructure today. Nelson, who’s lived in several cities, says Mumbai has an edgy quality but seems to make sense of its own chaos. “Unlike Europe, where everything is ordered and boring, here you can turn a corner, come across a stack of metal sheets on the street, and know it’s unexpected but not entirely out of place. And you can appreciate that it has a beauty of its own.”

Mumbai Is Upgrading shows at the G5A Study, Mahalaxmi, on July 27 and 28, 11am to 6pm. There are artist-led walkthroughs on both days, from 6pm. Entry is free.


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