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Exploring Mumbai’s Art Scene

October 19, 2012
Prashant Pandey sculpture in Mumbai, India
“Fifty-foot ceilings and dark, shadowy corners make a great backdrop for Prashant Pandey’s looming sculptures.”
Photography Adam H. Graham

Mumbai—city of chaos, dreams, honking horns, mysterious puddles and sudden snapshots of joy on the faces of 14 million denizens. City of art? How could it not be?

For many travellers in our group, this is a first-time visit to India. Though it’s my third, Mumbai—formerly Bombay—is the kind of town that takes years to figure out. One thing that’s consistent: You don’t come here without being surprised.

What surprised me on this visit was the gentle side of the city. Sure, the in-your-face glitter, trashy streets and sprawling slums amid single-family skyscrapers get all the ink. But Mumbai has a soft, sophisticated side, too. I discovered it in the city’s contemporary art galleries, which are sprinkled from the creative district of Kala Ghoda to the posh, leafy area known as SoBo (South Bombay).

Mumbai’s gallery scene is intentionally clandestine. Three fellow passengers and I were led by local Ventours guide Yamini Oza, who graciously whisked us down shaded alleys, into dimly lit residential buildings, hidden garages and up weathered staircases to secret lofts. “You must walk around on your own to discover Mumbai,” said Yamini lithely ascending a battered wooden staircase in her chartreuse sari. “Mumbai is India’s safest city for women, and most neighbourhoods are secure to walk around on your own. It’s important that everybody be able to enjoy this city. Not just for the art, but for the sake of us—its residents.”

Here are three of the several galleries she showed us:

Chemould Prescott Road, Queens Mansion, 3rd floor, G. Talwatkar Marg, Fort
Getting here is half the fun. Enter a rickety manual elevator playing a monosynth version of the theme song from Love Story. Take it to the third floor. Buzz for access to a cavernous space. This is one of Mumbai’s power galleries showing at Art Basel, Hong Kong International and Frieze. It specialises in contemporary Indian artists like Aditi Singh and Gieve Patel. Established in 1963 by artists Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy, the gallery is now run by their their daughter, Shireen.

Project 88, N.A. Sawant Marg, Colaba
This massive 4,000-square-foot (372-square-metre) office-turned-gallery opened in 2006 under the ownership of Sree Goswami, who can also be found surfing the art circuit. The gallery emphasises “emerging and established artists in long-term relationships to facilitate understanding and awareness of their continually evolving practices in India.” The exposed beams and rounded iron pillars hint at the space’s industrial past, while its exhibitions, including one by graphic artist Sarnath Banerjee (running until November 3), reflect a fresh take on the contemporary Indian experience.

Gallery Maskara, 6/7 3rd Pasta Lane, Colaba
Fifty-foot (15-metre) ceilings and dark, shadowy corners make a great backdrop for Prashant Pandey’s looming sculptures, which include a hanging white heart made out of shattered chunks of marble, a light box made from the piths of limes and a flat, black moon fashioned out of chunks of asphalt. Recognisable for his signature octagonal red specs, gallery owner Abhay Maskara spent time in Seattle, but moved back here to showcase Indian artists alongside international ones such as Brazilian graffiti artist Nina Pandolfo, whose colourful street art graces the exterior wall of the gallery.


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Adam H. Graham

Blogger Adam H. Graham

Based in Zürich and New York, Adam H. Graham is a veteran journalist who’s travelled to more than 70 countries and written for numerous publications, including National Geographic Traveler, Monocle, and Travel + Leisure.

Read more about Adam H. Graham

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