Tucked in a narrow bylane in Girgaum lies Khotachiwadi, one of the citys best-kept secrets. As one steps into this idyllic gaothan, one feels like its being in Goa where homes, sporting bright yellow and green exteriors, dot the lanes. Made from teak and replete with front porches, verandahs and latticed staircases, these Konkan-Portuguese-style bungalows were built over two centuries ago and were homes of the East Indian community. Today, however, this heritage precinct is striving to fight to protect its existence in Mumbai, with its residents trying to ward off builders eager to build high-rises on the land.
After the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) approached the Bombay High Court in the year 2015 against the construction of two high-rises in the area, currently there is a stay on any kind of development in the locality. Fashion designer James Ferreira, who continues to stay at his stunningly well-preserved family home in Khotachiwadi, is appalled by the governments apathy and continues to play a pivotal role in the preservation and restoration of his neighbourhood. The 61 year-old Ferreira believes that the only way to keep Khotachiwadi relevant is to keep it in the limelight. In a bid to do so, he has hosted a show that was part of the Focus Photography festival and artist Paul Bhonsles exhibition.
Last week, Ferreira once again opened the doors of his residence to art. The show, Archival Dialogues, is presented by Priyasri Art Gallery and curated by Pronoy Chakraborty, a student of art history and aesthetics at MS University in Baroda. Archival Dialogues showcases the works of Priyanka DSouza, Avni Bansal, Dinar Sultana, Shreya Shukla, Sarasija Subramanian and Mithra Kamalam, six young students from the same university who have contextualised contemporary art practices in colonial spaces. A treasure trove of curios and artifacts sourced from different corners of the world, Ferrieras home serves as a museum for these young artists to display their works.
Gallerist Priyasri Patodia set up this site-specific exhibition when she met Chakraborty and learnt how he dealt with artists who are associated with a museum-related way of thinking and working. It was interesting to see how the new generation of contemporary artists reacted to Jamess house that is like a museum. The East Indians who were the original residents of Khotachiwadi, have a strong history and have been marginalised. For Patodia, the idea was to showcase this amazing home with contemporary art. We didnt want the artist to be influenced by its truth. We wanted them to come and experience Khotachiwadi and come up with their own ideas on the basis of what they take away from this colonial space. The exhibition is about dualities, where these young artists work in a colonial space, a home that has existed for 100 years, so its like a conversation between these two diverse groups, she says.
Sultanas works that seem as if she is archiving nature can be placed in archeological spaces. She has created paper with flower pulp and obtained all the colours used in her works from natural substances. Shukla, Kamalam and DSouza have done miniatures and placed them in a political context. So, while Shuklas display of jars has been inspired by drawings of moths, DSouza has articulated the print of the mosaic tile on Ferrieras verandah and painted it on a hand-made paper. Chakraborty says, These kind of dialogues are being set up in every corner of this space (referring to Ferrieras home). Off late, there has been so much focus on the history and the subaltern that has not been looked at. That way, this space becomes very significant.
Ferriera says, Khotachiwadi is one of the most incredible tourist spots that we have in the city but is completely neglected by the government. Since they arent coming ahead and helping me, I have started doing these things by myself. I feel the more people you expose to this space, the more positive vibes you get. Im proud that my residence is being used and for me, its a pleasure to meet people.
The fashion designer believes that Khotachiwadi can be turned into a cultural precinct. All these incredible homes can be made into an incredible little antique village like New Delhis Hauz Khas if authorities see the potential. Ferriera strongly believes in the preservation of the past, We are a country that has had a rich, varied past. For us to go forward, we have to go backwards, but we arent doing that. Archival Dialogues brings the memories back and teaches us about what has happened in the past. It is the Indianness in us which will only come out if we go back to what we are, he concludes.
Archival Dialogues is ongoing at James Ferreiras Studio 47/G Khotachiwadi, till November 10 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. The show will then shift to Priyasri Art Gallery, Worli from January 15 to February 2, 2018.