MUMBAI AND NEW DELHI – Having been immersed in the life of both cities, Anindita Ghose, features editor of Vogue India, is the ideal guide for a cultural exploration of Mumbai and New Delhi, two of the subcontinent’s most vibrant and exciting cities.
Mumbai, the “Maximum City” may be one of the most populous urban regions in the world – its long, club-like shape can make it difficult to navigate from north to south. But, with many art galleries clustered in a single area, the culturally curious visitor will have little trouble.
Gracing the southern end of Mumbai, the Kala Ghoda district has long been at the heart of the city’s cultural history. Its name (meaning “Black Horse”) derives from the now-absent black stone statue of a mounted King Edward VII that stood at its centre. Within a two-kilometre radius of this spot lies the site where the Bombay Art Society was founded, in 1888, and also of the famed Jehangir Art Gallery, which opened in the 1950s. Here stirred the radical beginnings of the Progressive Artists’ Group at the Sir J. J. School of Art, alma mater to many significant modern and contemporary Indian artists, including S. H. Raza and Jitish Kallat. This area is now home to an array of the city’s most compelling contemporary art galleries and edgier non-profit art spaces.
While the district has always been popular with the city’s cultural cognoscenti, reinforcements in the fashion and culinary spheres have added a glamourous edge. In the past few years, designers such as the international fashion darling Sabyasachi Mukherjee, and more recently, Gaurav Gupta, have repurposed heritage spaces tucked away in its criss-cross of tapering lanes. And then there are the restaurants with star chefs like The Table (Alex Sanchez is back after a stint at a three-Michelin-star restaurant in New York) and Ellipsis (Kelvin Cheung’s plating evokes Jackson Pollock) that have made the district infinitely more trendy. Those with only 48 hours to spend in the city would be able to fill their days here many times over.
THE COLOSSAL GATEWAY OF INDIA WAS CONSTRUCTED IN 1924 AND NOW STANDS AS ONE OF MUMBAI’S MOST VISITED ARCHITECTURAL LANDMARKS. PHOTOGRAPH BY DHIRAJ SINGH.
Art galleries are cashing in on this renewed interest in the area with programmes like Art Night Thursdays and the Mumbai Gallery Weekend. In its third edition this year, the Gallery Weekend (15–18 January) is set to be a lively affair with seven galleries participating. Conveniently, these are the galleries you should be visiting when in Mumbai in any case: Chatterjee & Lal, Chemould Prescott Road, Gallery Maskara, Lakeeren Gallery, Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Project 88 and Sakshi Gallery. Sree Goswami, who owns Project 88, says she and her peers are taking cues from similar events in Berlin and New York. All the galleries will be opening major shows over the weekend, and there will be an accompanying programme of talks, seminars and performances. It is time, says Goswami, that gallery owners capitalised on Mumbai’s vibrant art district.
This is a marked advantage that Mumbai – otherwise a difficult city to find your way around – has over Delhi. Art critic and curator Girish Shahane, also the artistic director of the India Art Fair this year, agrees. “In terms of navigating, Mumbai is definitely easier because the best galleries are clustered together, and the people are more approachable,” he says, adding, “Although Delhi is probably richer culturally, Mumbai is a better place for gallery hopping.”
THE DR BHAU DAJI LAD MUMBAI CITY MUSEUM IS THE OLDEST MUSEUM IN THE COUNTRY. PHOTOGRAPH BY DHIRAJ SINGH.
But if you are open to venturing outside, a visit to Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla is a must. Even frequent visitors to Mumbai are likely to have overlooked this gem (it is the city’s oldest museum, founded circa 1855) because it has recently undergone a major restoration. The journalist Nayantara Kilachand, who until recently ran the splendid city website mumbaiboss.com, goes as far as calling it the most charming place in the city. “Even if you don’t venture inside, sitting in the leafy courtyard provides a nice escape from the urban mayhem just a few feet away,” she exhorts. In January, the museum will host a gargantuan exhibition by the quintessential Mumbai artist Atul Dodiya. A guided tour by Dodiya himself is scheduled to be the grand finale of Mumbai Gallery Weekend.
For those willing to trek to the northern end of the city, a visit to the non-profit space Cona is strongly recommended. This arts centre/residency is run by Hemali Bhuta and Shreyas Karle, two bright young artists on the contemporary art scene. In January, they begin a long-term film workshop with Prayas Abhinav, an Ahmedabad-based artist known for his interactive installations. But do make an appointment in advance as the space doubles as their home, and the two are balancing running the organisation along with their individual practices, a young daughter, two dogs and – my favourite part – a cat called Totoro.
Non-profit spaces such as theirs are having a moment in Mumbai. Back in Kala Ghoda, there is the Mumbai Art Room, which has an energetic young curator, Nida Ghouse. And there’s the exciting Clark House Initiative – throw that name around, and you will be taken for a bonafide insider.
So is Kala Ghoda still the arts centre of the city? I ask Kilachand, who as a daily commentator on all things Mumbai, is well placed to answer. “More than an art centre, it serves as a model for how neighbourhoods in the city can retain their heritage and architecture and yet allow for commercial enterprise without ruining the former,” she says. It is an answer that elevates the district beyond the scope of the question.
Fifty years ago, the civic authorities moved the black stone statue of King Edward VII to the Byculla zoo. The horse may have found a more suitable home, but Mumbai’s art world still spins around where it once stood.
Unlike Mumbai, where the art scene is dominated by a clutch of vibrant private galleries, Delhi’s cultural environment is marked by its museums and non-profits, together with the magnificent historic monuments that dot the city. If the pristine blue dome of the 16th-century Humayun’s Tomb and poetic accounts of Nizamuddin Dargah – the mausoleum of a 14th-century Sufi saint – appear in every city guide, it is because they are unique experiences by any measure.
In the past decade or so, the capital’s growing privilege and wealth have translated to a number of boutique shopping destinations, from Khan Market and Mehar Chand Market to the hipster sprawl of Hauz Khas village. The first two are ideal for clothing, home furnishings and books while CMYK in Mehar Chand is devoted to art, design and architecture books. Hauz Khas is where you will find that 1960s Bollywood movie poster and other objects redolent of kitsch and quirk. For more traditional handicrafts and objets d’art, there’s Connaught Place with its Georgian-style columns and cornices, home to the government-run emporiums.
A common term used by Indian tour operators for the classic Delhi-Agra-Jaipur package is the “Golden Triangle.” In the context of Delhi’s art institutions, this Golden Triangle includes the National Gallery of Modern Art (a retrospective of international critical favourite Raqs Media Collective is on view through 15 February); the National Museum for the classic arts of India in all media (a change in leadership has spruced this place up considerably) and the National Crafts Museum – all within a fifteen-minute drive from each other. As Peter Nagy, founder of Gallery Nature Morte, says: “The strength of museums and cultural institutions makes a huge difference to the overall life of the city… it enriches the general cultural atmosphere.”
SCULPTURE ON VIEW AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF MODERN ART IN DELHI. PHOTOGRAPH BY DHIRAJ SINGH.
If the institutions are the main attraction in Delhi, the commercial galleries still have much to offer. Nature Morte is among the best for contemporary art. In January, Nagy opens a solo exhibition by Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra (who go by Thukral & Tagra) – a duo that works collaboratively in a wide range of media including painting, sculpture, installation, video, graphic design and fashion. Their work blurs the lines between fine art and popular culture. If you are more disposed to modern art, head to Delhi Art Gallery at Hauz Khas village, which in January will be hosting a retrospective of Rabin Mondal, the modernist painter from Bengal. This might be your last chance to visit the gallery in its present location; in mid-2015, it will relocate to a larger space near the Qutab Minar. Kishore Singh, head of publications and exhibitions, says it is because the present location “is too lively, often warding off serious collectors.”
The India Art Fair (29 January–1 February), now in its seventh edition, is a must visit. This year, to add to the colossal number of artworks on view from 85 exhibiting galleries, is a specially curated programme. The legendary French artist Daniel Buren is creating an artwork that will cover the façade of the building. Young Indian artists Dhruvi Acharya and Chitra Ganesh will create a collaborative canvas over the course of the fair, while the painter Francesco Clemente will exhibit one of his elaborate tents produced in collaboration with local artisans in Jodhpur.
Early in the year is a good time to be in Delhi. Winter reveals the special advantage the city wields over Mumbai: traffic is a lesser evil and the weather opens up possibilities of a picnic in places like the Lodhi Gardens or the Mehrauli Archaeological Park. It is a city that moves at a slow pace, and because one does not spend hours on the road, you will find that 24 hours stretch far.
With time thus gained, you can afford to lose yourself in the impossibly narrow lanes of Old Delhi to buy attar and sample galouti kebabs and still make it back in time to have the best Indian meal at Indian Accent at the Manor Hotel. Do include in your itinerary visits to the foundations that are pushing the Indian art scene further. With patronage from the art community, Pooja Sood’s KHOJ now has a new home in Khirki; there’s the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Saket – the first private museum exhibiting modern and contemporary work from the Subcontinent; and Lekha and Anupam Poddar’s exquisitely curated Devi Art Foundation in Gurgaon. But you can do all of this in a day – because Delhi will let you have your way.
Photograph by Dhiraj Singh.
Anindita Ghose is Features Editor of Vogue India.
HERO IMAGE: MUMBAI'S CHHATRAPATI SHIVAJI TERMINUS, NOW A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE, IS A PRIME EXAMPLE OF VICTORIAN GOTHIC REVIVAL ARCHITECTURE IN INDIA. PHOTOGRAPH BY DHIRAJ SINGH.
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