Mumbai Memoirs 3: Artistic Mumbai!
Every February the art lovers of Mumbai eagerly await the Kala Ghoda Art Festival. ‘Kala Ghoda’ literally means ‘Black Horse’, which also happens to be the festival’s mascot. One may wonder, ‘What has a black horse to do with an art festival?’ Few years back, when this same question popped into my mind, I explored the mystery behind the festival’s name. Some interesting facts unfolded in front of me when I realized that, during the British era, the location, where this art festival is held today, was colloquially referred as Kala Ghoda area. This was because a black stone statue of, the then Prince of Wales- King Edward VII, mounted on a horse, stood majestically in a square nearby. This statue was built by a Jewish businessman and philanthropist named Albert Abdullah David Sasoon. Later in 1965 the statue was re-located to the botanical garden lawns at the Byculla zoo in Central Mumbai.
The Kala Ghoda festival was held from 1st-9th of February’ 2014. Since 16 years this festival has gained immense popularity, not just among Mumbai’kars (citizens of Mumbai), but also from visitors across the world. Some foreign tourists plan their annual India visit in alignment to this festival in Mumbai! Though I live just 6 Km (4 miles) away from the Kala Ghoda festival venue, due to my other professional commitments, it was tough for me to catch up with it until 7th February. I had carried my camera along with me that morn, so that while returning home, incase if I could manage to visit the festival, I had my ‘gun loaded’ & ‘ready for a shoot’!
Somehow that evening I cut through the traffic and reached the venue at 9.15pm. The friendly security check personnel informed me that soon the festival venue will be shut for the day and I therefore would not be able to experience the aura of the festival whole-heartedly. On hearing this, though I was a bit disappointed, I further enquired the daily official timing of the festival, which was 10am to 10pm. I made a mental note of it and decided to return back the next day but continued doing a Reiki of the festival in whatever time I had with me that night. As I entered the festival venue, it gave me a feel of entering a magical world under neon lights, floating in midst of an urban jungle. I quickly explored the place in a jiffy and was mesmerized with the intellectual and artistic vibes that reflected from the artefacts that were either put up on display or for sales. I was tempted to click photographs, but the neon lights were playing spoil sport as I saw them hijacking the original colours off the art work around. I thus decided to visit early next morning for clicking photographs in bright sunlight and also to beat the intrusion of the humungous crowd that buzzed in the vicinity.
At the exit door, I picked up an information brochure of the festival which enlightened me with details of the events & its organizers. The Kala Ghoda Association- an association of institutions, galleries, patrons and concerned citizens who value art restoration, was formed in 1998 to systematically conduct the annual Kala Ghoda Art Festival. This year they tied up with Hindustan Times, a popular national newspaper network in India. For smooth functioning of all the events, this year, fresh sub-venues were created, away from the main Rampart Row Road venue. Everyone who visited these events had something to admire and re-visit for more in the nine day festival that hosted heritage walks and programs related to food, dance, music, theatre, visual art, cinema, workshops, children and more. Already the festival was the talk of the town as social media acted as a catalyst in promoting the ‘coolness’ of the event among friends and relatives.
Next morning I reached the venue at 11am and was surprised to see the venue already buzzing with lots of visitors like me. Since it was a weekend it was an obvious scene. I then took my own sweet time to absorb the vibe that each art work reflected. The Visual Art display zone was located at Rampart Row lane. As I strolled around the lane, I was first attracted to this artistic metal horse that stood amidst the admiring crowd. An artist named Ilyas Ahmed had sculpted it by using various mechanical parts. As I gazed it with admiration, I thought to myself, “If I was asked to christen the horse, I would name it ‘Metallic Knight’.
The next thing that caught my eye was a heap of plastic bottles which were half filled with coloured water. As I approached it further I realized it was a huge colourful plastic bottle mountain created by Natasha D’costa. It was a unique way of showing how thrown away plastic bottles too can be useful for creating beautiful artwork.
As I further explored the festival I noticed that certain art works conveyed strong social messages, thus creating awareness regarding ‘Corruption in Politics’, ‘Right to Education’, ‘Animal Welfare’ etc. Stalls too were allotted to art based entrepreneurs who marketed their commercial products to the enthusiastic visitors. Even outside the venue, local artisans cashed on the opportunity to sell their ethnic products, thus reassuring me of my belief that, just being street smart is enough to sell anything in Mumbai.
I must admit, street art is at its best at the Kala Ghoda festival, where many artistes, performers and craftsperson, proudly exhibit their work here. For more information click here: http://kalaghodaassociation.com/cat.aspx?Id=102
I also got an opportunity to attend a Marathi (native language of Mumbai) theatre play named ‘Meghdoot’. It was held at the National Gallery of Modern Art, just opposite the main festival venue.
The play was a brilliant adaptation of an original story written by an ancient Indian playwright/poet Kalidasa. The modern version, written & director by Vipul Mahagaonkar, had an experimental feel, which threw light on the current issues that the 21st century India is painfully experiencing.
On returning back at the main venue, I saw few visually handicap people giving a foot massage to visitors who availed their services. On exploring further I was impressed with the concept developed by ‘The Victoria Memorial School for the Blind, Mumbai. The school educates their visually challenged students with skills that would empower them both socially and financially. The boys thus were demonstrating the magic of their sense of touch in an area allotted to them by the festival organizers.
All in all, there was everything for everyone at the festival. Children, adults, senior citizens & foreign guests were seen exploring food, pottery making and also admiring popular art works like the wood sculpted plane, colourful Ambassador car, Mumbai dabbawala bicycle, a stone turtle and other cultural events that were conducted around South Mumbai. Though, like me, many people may have sensed that clicking photographs was getting increasingly difficult. This was because the venue was getting over-populous every hour. But, inspite of the discomfort, I felt happy that the festival visitors were not just limited to serious art community people but the common man too felt deep connection with it.
I believe, art is an expression of oneself and it is a powerful tool to radiate one’s energy to others, in form of colours, form, design, cinema, theatre, photography, music and words. Every art achieves a full circle when the energy compressed by an artist in his/her art, touches the soul of the art admirer in a positive way. I am sure, even a dead soul would have got resurrected with the electrifying & inspiring ambience of the Kala Ghoda festival. This festival had truly brought together Mumbai’s artists, corporate houses, the civil authorities and the common man for good. I feel, the common man thus benefiting the most, cause history is witness to great artists being born from among ‘inspired’ commoners!