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Mumbaiwale: How one artist’s passion created a whole gallery on Kala Ghoda’s streets

If the pavement art outside the Jehangir gallery has ever stopped you in your tracks, thank the Plaza Artists’ Association

Updated: Jan 17, 2020 23:50 IST

By Rachel Lopez,

26-year-old Pune artist Vrushalee Joshi, with 12 canvases featuring teddy bears (HT Photo)

So much to see this art season! If you’ve never gone gallery-hopping, now’s the time to brave the cold white cubes. If you’ve been before, you know the experience is greater than the sum of its parts. Either way, at some point, you’ve probably passed the artists displaying their works on the pavement stands around the Jehangir art gallery. Here’s a closer look:

It’s the quintessential Bombay start-up: Artist KM Shenoy, who moved to Bombay from Calcutta in 1959, was looking for a place to display his line-drawings. In 1960, he showed at the prestigious Jehangir art gallery and three times at Artists’ Centre. But the art world was tough. By the 1980s Shenoy was selling prints of his work every Saturday outside Jehangir “like a balloon seller”, says artist Amanullah Majeed, who paints under the name Aman. As Rs 10, they were quite popular and inspired the idea of an open-air gallery.

Pavement Art gallery & artist outside Jehangir Art Gallery Mumbai, India, on Tuesday, January 14, 2020. ( Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo )

The BMC was roped in: Shenoy began writing letters in beautiful calligraphy to Municipal Commissioner SS Tinaikar in 1988, requesting permission for a low-budget display. “He was a strict man,” recalls Majeed. “But he also loved art. Shenoy’s penmanship did the trick.” The Plaza Artists’ Association was formed soon after to organise shows. Majeed is now its secretary.

Everyone’s a critic: From their first show in 1988, there were detractors. Established artists lamented that putting art out on the street degraded it. “Shenoy didn’t care,” says Majeed. “The plaza was for talent that could not make it to the established galleries. It allowed the buying public to view and judge art independently.” Shenoy often arranged for food for the artists, picking up pao from Yezdani Bakery in Fort, and arranging for tea. In some cases, he also helped them out with art materials.



Shenoy’s Dombivli landlord helped too: When he learned what Shenoy had devoted his life to, he allowed him to live rent-free for 13 years, until Shenoy’s death in 2005.

It’s grown and grown: They started with four panels, secured a tiny office and art storeroom behind the amphitheatre down the street. Artists from across the country can apply to display their work. There’s no booking fee. But many voluntarily donate to the Plaza from their sales. “We have three artists every week, and portrait painters,” Majeed says. A few years ago, the Kala Ghoda Association also erected display grilles along the sides of the street, commissioning their own roster of artists to display work. “They copied us,” Majeed says, grinning.

It has an apt mascot: A crow, painted by Shenoy!

Pavement Art gallery & artist outside Jehangir Art Gallery Mumbai, India, on Tuesday, January 14, 2020. ( Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo )

Pavement art has its own trends: There’s mix of religious, contemporary and public-friendly themes every week. Boom-time is right before Diwali, “when people have renovated their homes and are considering art for the walls”. Most work is priced at Rs 3,000 and up, depending on the size. And Mumbai imagery remains an ever-popular draw.

This week’s selection is unusual: Among the exhibitors is 26-year-old Pune artist Vrushalee Joshi, with 12 canvases featuring teddy bears. “I saw the space on a trip here in November and showed the Plaza people my previous work to book a space,” she says. “The bears’ fur is extremely hard to paint.” Joshi has been coached via Skype from an artist in California, and chose her subject because the world has enough landscapes. “People smile when they see the canvases,” she says. “One kid even ran over and hugged a painting.”

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