Design Museum Dharavi was set up to explore the social impact of design on informal settlement community
A design museum in the slums
Attention was guaranteed when art historian Amanda Pinatih and visual artist Jorge Mañes Rubio opened ‘the first ever design museum inside an informal urban settlement’ earlier this year in Dharavi in Mumbai, India. Though temporary, the mobile design museum had its impact in the largest informal settlement of India. During a small seminar in Amsterdam last week, the project was looked back upon.
‘Museums are the new cathedrals of the XXI Century, not just cultural venues but also tourist attractions, public squares and symbols of power and wealth for western cities,’ the initiators of the Design Museum Dharavi (DMD) explain on the project’s website. ‘They provide the visitors with the possibility of being part of an experience that goes beyond the works exhibited.’
Making slums more liveable
By creating a design museum Pinatih and Mañes Rubio wanted to make the slums more liveable and recognize the equal rights of its inhabitants by promoting a greater exchange between formal and informal economies. After a first visit it took them five years to realize the project, which received funding from the Creative Industries Fund NL and The Art of Impact.
Working together with graphic designer Kruti Saraiya from Mumbai, Pinatih and Mañes Rubio invited local craftsmen to build a cart that could serve as mobile museum, much like the local market carts used to sell food and other goods. They then asked a local potter’s family to work with them on designing, together, new kinds of chai cups and water containers. The same was done with broom makers, who are considered the lowest in rank and where challenged to use their skills to make entirely new products too.
Creativity is in everyone
‘We wanted to show that creativity is in everyone and that local makers are able to do a lot more than repetitively making the same product all the time,’ Pinatih and Mañes Rubio told the audience that gathered last week in Spring House in Amsterdam for a short seminar to conclude the project. For a second exhibition the same approach was used to challenge a carpenter to develop his personal view on cricket bats, a question he readily accepted.
Elaborating on the international trend that museums are more and more not only collecting institutions, but also places that drive participation and development of new projects, the Dharavi Design Museum was intended to empower the local community.
In the case of the potter’s family this seems to be the case: the DMD team received pictures of new designs for water containers the potters made on their own initiative. But does an initiative like this in any way help the broom maker, who is lowest on the ladder in the Indian culture, someone from the audience wanted to know.
Designer Kruti Saraiya did believe the project had helped boost self-esteem of people in Dharavi as ‘what we lack in India is self-pride. The project showed the people that what they do has value.’ Indian industrial and architectural designer Satyendra Pakhalé, based in Amsterdam since 1998, opposed to this view with sharp words. ‘We are not looking at the real causes here,’ he said. ‘We have to face the real issue of superstition that maintains the division of people. As long as we don’t address this, nothing will change.’
Still, Rahul Srivastava, who runs with Matias Echanove offices for involving local residents in urban planning called urbz in Goa, Geneva and Dharavi, Mumbai, defended the DDM-project, saying that the project did provoke a tiny shift in Dharavi. ‘Such a move will not change the whole system at once, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make the move.’
The entire Design Museum Dharavi project is documented in a book that includes contributions from Rahul Srivastava & Matias Echanove, Nadine Botha, Steven van den Haak and Dewi Pinatih. Incorporated are a manual for creating similar initiatives and a catalogue of the chai cups collection. The hand bound book ‘Design Museum Dharavi 2016’ can be obtained from firstname.lastname@example.org for € 40.