I let the children take my camera for some of the event and they accidentally got into the settings and deleted all 5oo of my photos.The photos attached to this post are from a collection of people from the event.
“First class Kane Sir, first class!” Ramu’s arm is wrapped tightly around my shoulder, and he uses the only words he knows in english and repeats them over and over just in case I don’t understand how happy he is. With his free arm he gestures wildly pointing to his favourite painting. The sun is directly overhead and the temperature is soaring above 30 degrees. I smile, squint and watch as children zig-zag across the garden carrying pots of paint, hands covered in bright colors. “Bohat acha, very good, first class Kane Sir.”
A few weeks ago as we cleared the last of the garbage, the full potential of the space could finally be seen. Suddenly the huge gray wall separating the slum from the Tata power substation became visable and presented itself as a possible canvas for the community. I had seen beautiful murals in Bandra, a wealthy suburb across town, but had no idea who painted them or how to find out. That evening as I typed “Dirty Wall Project” into google, an article about a group called the “Wall Project” popped up. Curious I clicked. As luck would have it, the Wall Project is an ever expanding group of artists who started painting any wall they could get permission for in 2008. Their only rules are no advertising, religious paintings or political agenda’s. DWP is run in a very similar fashion with no religious bias or political ties so this seemed to be a perfect match. I quickly emailed them describing our community and the wall in question and the need for color and a positive change for the children here. Over the next week emails were exchanged and a facebook event called “Dirty to Dreamy” was born. (http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=104722556272383&ref=ts)
With the event only ten days away, work intensified on the garden. Three men were hired to scrape and prepare the 100 metre boundary wall and 21 trucks of mud were dumped in the new space. Before my contact with the Wall Project people, I had already booked a ticket to Jaipur to visit Vatsalya. (Vatsalya is an NGO that DWP worked with over a year ago setting up health camps geared towards the huge Indian oil company fire in Sitapura. DWP and Vatsalya processed over 1700 people in ten days with free medicines and diagnosis.). In Jaipur, I was also meeting with Morgan Van Breda and her documentary film team to help them gain access to some amazing communities in Rajasthan and firm up some details regarding her arrival in Mumbai. This left Ashley all alone with a ton of work to be completed on the garden in time for the wall painting event. Ashley and I stayed in contact via phone twice daily. Twenty workers were hired to spread the new mud and much progress was made.
Arriving back in Saki Naka, with the space looking amazing because of Ashley and the team, we then ordered scaffolding and paint in preparation for the artists arrival the next morning. Hindi pop music blared from Raj’s giant speaker as children clung to my shirt, “Painting Kane Sir”, painting , painting? There was excitement in the air as curious members of the community gathered on the pipeline shouting questions in Hindi? With “hinglish”, I try and describe the days’s event to them amid laughter from the children. Soon groups of artists began to arrive and we directed them to the scaffolding and told them to choose a section of wall. More and more people began to show up in the garden, paint was brought in on the heads of Gotia and Prakash and Raj turned the music up while children gyrated to the deafening sound of the crackling speaker.
Two hours later, the garden ws awash in color as hundreds of people, paint brushes in hand painted the wall. The artists sketched their drawings on the wall with chalk, while children climbed and ran between the scaffolding. We decided to give the small children a section of wall at the end that was low enough for them to paint and this soon got out of hand! Every available brush was soon dripping in paint as children scrambled to find a place on the wall. With over a 100 children weaving and running it became impossible to keep them in one place and after an hour we soon gave up realising that this battle was not to be won.
Slowly, more and more of the community joined us in the garden and soon out numbered the artists. Mothers and fathers with children by their side began painting and I couldn’t help but smile. This is their garden and their community and to witness them enjoying the day with family and artists from across Maharashtra and Mumbai is truly special. I spent most of the day with children glued to my back as I walked water bottles to the artists and answered questions about our projects. Vignesh (Discover Urjaa) and Ashley worked hard with a few of the Wall Project volunteers to keep everything in order. By late in the afternoon the wall and the children were covered in paint.
The transformation this community has witnessed over the last 70 days has been extraodinary and many members of the community still can’t believe the change. This event has so many positives. To have local artists from across Mumbai join our community and help us beautify this area is humbling to say the least. This part of the slum community was largely forgotten about two months ago and was often described as the garbage area by other slum dwellers. When I first started to remove the garbage by hand, I was laughed at and thought to be crazy. When I told them that this area would become a beautiful garden and space for their children, they again laughed. This project has been anything but easy but I am proud to say that we now have the full support of this community. With the majority of the hard work behind us we will continue to beautify the garden making it a wonderful clean space and a model for other slum communities.
DWP is small but with determination and hard work anything is possible…
For more information about the artists visit: http://www.thewallproject.com/
Otienna Ellwand (from Ryerson University School of Journalism in Canada) is currently studying journalism in Mumbai and is an intern at Mumbai’s Mid-Day paper. She and a photographer came to see the new garden and wrote an article about the event with a follow up article about the artists, to come. (http://www.mid-day.com/news/2011/feb/060211-saki-naka-slum-school-playground.htm)
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