Built in 1875 and situated off Cuffe Parade in South Mumbai, Sassoon Docks is one of the oldest docks in Mumbai, and only one open to the general public. The 142-year-old dock is also, one of largest fish markets in the city.
It was the first commercial wet dock in western India that helped establish the cotton trade. It played a prime role in encouraging the Bombay Presidency to promote the construction of the large Prince’s Dock during the dawn of the industrial revolution in the city.
But for the longest time, the docks remained a forgotten space of Mumbai, only home to the native Kolis living in a world of their own making.
To revive the historic heritage of the 142-year-old docks, St+art India foundation, in association with Asian Paints, gave a complete makeover to the home and lives of the Koli community at Sassoon Docks through the artworks of over 30 artists from around the world.
With its motto of ‘Art for All’, the Start Urban Art Festival for Sassoon Dock Art Project kickstarted on November 11 and will run until December 30, 2017.
Armed with my camera and notepad, I waited eagerly in the line on the first day at the opening. To say the sight that beheld me as I continued to explore the dock for over three hours would be a real understatement.
Here’s a glimpse at some of the exceptional art installations at the street art project that will make you want to pack your bags right away and bask in the glory, all free of cost!
1. The Idea of Smell
The very first installation helps the visitor wrap their heads around the idea of smell. Huge nylon nets, a source of livelihood for the fisherfolks, suspended from the ceiling bear free-flowing words that invoke the sense of smell.
From the aroma of your mother’s cooking to the nostalgic fragrance of an old ratty t-shirt your ex left after a breakup. From the sharp hitting smell of Iodex to the stinking municipality garbage bin, Hanif Qureshi leaves you awe-inspired with his art-installation.
Artist Shilo Shiv Suleman uses organza and fiberglass and intricate embroidery on panels that flow from the ceiling with love poems written by herself. She declares the timeless space of Sassoon Docks and hymns of drowning by G Nammalvar her muse.
Shimmering in gold, with the sunlight that makes its course through a small window opening, you can spend hours trying to decipher the poet’s emotions. Once her words pull at your heart’s strings, you cannot unsee the artwork.
3. Inside Out
The globally renowned project by artist JR celebrates the life, identity and untold stories of the original inhabitants of any space being transformed. In this case, the walls of the dock are adorned with blow up monochrome portraits of the common man, the residing Kolis who might otherwise just be a face in the crowd.
It celebrates the history of their vibrant community and their distinct identity that is struggling to survive in the homogenised nature of modern-day Mumbai.
Olivier Hoelzl creates a sense of ambivalence in the room by recreating a photograph of a Koli women worshipping the sea with joint hands. But behold, it is not a photograph, but a complex mix of multiple layers of intricately carved stencil paper cuts.
The blue and pink UV lights, making their way through the cuts captivate the viewer. The technique of multilayering is used as a metaphor for the multiple-layers of the history of Mumbai.
5. The Ugly Truth
Using garbage from the landfill in Turbhe, artist Sajid Wajid creates modern day sculptures that take a satirical political tone. He mentions how the idea is to tell the people of Mumbai that garbage doesn’t merely disappear once we dispose of it.
Just because it isn’t in our vision, doesn’t mean it’s lost. He offers a window for people to widen their perception through the audio-visual art installation.
6. Plastic Ocean
Artist Tan Zi Xi works with over 400 kg of plastic she creates a plastic ocean to raise awareness about the growing problem of plastic waste polluting Mumbai’s coasts. The viewer becomes an integral part of the installation with the mirrors installed inside, that makes you feel caught up, with no place to escape, a repercussion of your own lifestyle.
7. Curiot & Romania’s Untitled Project
When you enter the space, it looks like a page stripped off the colour books on Arabian Nights and the adventures of Aladdin. Painted in beautifully contrasting pink and blue shades, with mystical creatures suspended from the ceiling, the artists retell the folklores from back home that make you want to lose yourself in an alternate universe of magic.
8. Guido Van Helten’s Wall Mural Portraits
The artist, after spending days clicking portraits of the locals, decided to immortalise the faces of three local women with full-sized murals. The expressions are deeply sentimental, and the devil is in the details.
They look upon the visitor who enters with a sentiment of grace and protectiveness, the mirth in the eyes of those women is almost infectious and will leave you feeling warm as you leave the space.
The installation is a social commentary by Arthat Collective. It connects the imagery of a giant skeleton of a fish and Mumbai’s sky rises that make up its bones. It shed light on how massive urban developments overshadow the history, culture and traditions of this forgotten 142-year-old space that lay in shambles for the longest time.
10. Sassoon Dock Dog
“So, did you see what the dog did to the dock?” artist Faizan Khatri asks the visitor. Believe you me, the massive installation of mesh wires showing the dog pissing on the wall is one image you wouldn’t be able to get out of your head.
Who would have thought, the simple act of a stray could be turned into an eye-catching massive installation; you keep thinking about till you reach home?