‘Home’ Research and Development: Mumbai, December 2014

Continent number three… And the fabulous and frenetic city of Mumbai.

Dinesh from Reality Tours took us on a guided walk through the Dharavi slums. 68 million people live in slums in India, this slum was established years ago and now has a commercial area peopled by incomers who work and live, for as many years as their health allows, with hazardous waste materials. We were surprised to hear from Dinesh, that he, and others, aspire to live in Dharavi, but cannot afford to do so. On first sight we visitors only see the squalor, overcrowding and tiny living spaces in these busy slums, but talking to the slum residents made us realise how people value and treasure the sense of community and history that is central to their lives, a theme we picked up on in the Rio Favelas and Soweto. Dinesh described how he cried and kissed the floor on the day his family needed to move on from their home. We visited the office of Reality Tours (set amidst hundreds of drying pots in the pottery quarter). Letizia Demartino, the executive director, described their project. They run a ‘royal city school’ with an emphasis on English and Computing; British Council volunteers help with some teaching. Further 20141205_142320groups include Project Front Foot a girls football club, a cricket club for boys, A mens and a teenage girls health group, nutrition and hearing aids for kids are also provided. There is a big emphasis on youth empowerment and promotion of health improvement. The project funds itself with imaginative tours of Mumbai including a public transport tour, street food and bike tours. Letizia was interested in the Home project; she is currently wanting to build on the creative activities available to the local people. She pointed us to an Italian/Indian company Artoxygen who have done some outdoor performance work in the slum.

Photo: Home entrance in Dharavi

Our next visit was to meet a philanthropic film maker, Nawneet, who runs the Dharavi Diary Project.   After making a 15 minute documentary about the slum, he wanted to find a way to empower the community he was portraying. On his return to Mumbai after five years working in the USA, he set up a centre in the heart of the slum. Here, children can come and learn to use technology and participate in English classes, play soccer and share stories. He uses video tutorials as a teaching tool and is soon to launch a home grown mobile app built with young women in the locale. He encourages the students to help with presentations about their work. The mothers of the children requested ‘upskilling’ in stitching, they now sell goods made from recycled materials. Word of mouth has made Nawneet’s project grow daily. He was very interested in our project – ‘our kids are very keen to share their stories’ – he and Bill talked about the idea of building bridges between the property developers and the community as he felt Mumbai was becoming a ‘city of slums’. Community spirit and community engagement are constants in our meetings, the concept of ‘Home’ is very strong, but the people often feel powerless in the face of developers.

Our third visit in the area was to Dharavi Biennale, where we met Dave Osray and Nayreen Daniwala, co directors and Dipesh Thakker, project coordinator. Dave has been In Mumbai for 11 years in his role at University College London’s Institute for Global Health exploring issues around women and children’s health (particularly survival of newborn babies). Nayreen has worked for 14 years in the field of women and violence. Coincidentally their last project was called ‘At Home’. We saw some of the beautiful work produced with the help from external artists; the rolling pin encircled in barbed wire was a very powerful image. When we saw their kitchen installation we were all taken back to the image of Om Bolo surrounded by his Soweto kitchens. The Dharavi Bienniale work with the Welcome Gallery and are showing their film (about women’s health problems brought on by the lack of safe toilets in the slum), in London in March 2015. After a very positive discussion about our common ground, we all agreed to explore a possible collaboration hosting our home project.

The next day we met with Matias Echanove and his team at Urbz.   The team organises collaborative workshops and facilitates hands-on research projects across the locale in Dharavi, responding to local personal needs as well as wider issues.   They describe themselves as an experimental urban research and action collective.   Matias described several projects including design solutions for kitchen storage and street tea whallas’ cup holders as well as full building projects, using locally sourced and reclaimed materials.   There was fascinating discussion about permanence and temporary structures, where we also heard about the notion of camouflaging permanent buildings to look like temporary slum structures to circumvent planning laws.   The Urbz office was also a perfect example – designed with the capability to completely remove and re-site this top floor office structure within 24 hours. Using the notion of ‘user-generated cities’, Matias and his team were inspiring in the ways they both effected change with innovative solutions and questioned urban development and notion of community engagement.   There was much common ground as well as interest in our Home project and we excitedly discussed how a practical workshop could bring together a range of practitioners to explore ideas for Home.

A slow bumper to bumper to mud-guard ride across town took us to the offices of Junoon to meet Sameera Iyengar, co-founder and Shruthi Vishwanath, programme manager of this energetic organisation utilising theatre and related artforms to develop an infrastructure and programme of activity that inspires a creative imaginative humane world.   The drive is the question: ‘How do we create platforms that allow people to connect around understandings of their daily lives?’.   Walking into an office with posters of Footsbarn Theatre, it was obvious that we were meeting likeminded people!   Sameera and Shruthi suggested some further contacts and locations we should pursue, including old mill buildings that may form the site for future work.   With the discussion shifting from their practical schools engagement programmes and stage works to the nature of art and community… and the class and caste system, we enjoyed a stimulating meeting that resulted in an invitation to present our work and project at the next Mumbai Local gathering at the end of the week.

Mumbai Local brings together an inspiring speaker from science or the arts with a diverse audiences of 7 to 70 year olds; we readily agreed to talk alongside Dr Vidita Vaidya, a respected researcher exploring the workings of the human brain!   Little did we realise how much we would have in common with Dr Vaidya as both her and Bill talked about the passions and obsessions that drive our work in the arts and science.   Dr Vaidya posed a beautiful question to the audience that demonstrated the similarities between artist an scientist:   What has us so addicted to our vocation that we will work through sustained failure to live that rare ‘Eureka’ moment? At the Mumbai Local evening, we were also lucky to meet Shashika Mooruth, a composer and singer working internationally with both traditional and contemporary forms.

After a series of meetings in atmospheric spaces across Mumbai, the next day we were off to the less stimulating and instantly recognisable setting of Starbucks (!) to meet an internationally recognised writer.   Luckily Akash Mohimen provided the stimulation with an interesting conversation about writing for theatre and communities and examples of projects he has worked on. Akash had really given our project some thought and described a variety of approaches that could be explored or included together for a Mumbai-specific project.   Including pop-up street plays, more organised street closures so that people could reclaim sites and use of old heritage sites, Akash painted a picture of possibilities for our project.   Mixing traditional and more contemporary forms of story telling was an exciting consideration and we enjoyed understanding more about these forms as we shape our ideas.   We agreed that we should definitely stay connected and that we would update Akash to draw him into the plans if possible.

Another long taxi ride across the city brought us to a multi-level café of indoor nooks and outdoor shaded terraces to meet with the team at Dharavi Art Room.   Hamanshu and Aqui are the invigorating young drivers behind this small but impactful organisation that uses art to effect social change for individuals and for whole communities.   Describing themselves as High Five Guru and Chief Hug Officer, Hamanshu and Aqui tell us about wonderfully hands-on projects that have lasting outcomes;   a women’s photographic project brought together women in a new context away from the day to day defined roles of ‘wife’ and ‘mother’ to explore both identity and community.   We heard that many of the women rarely used their first names as they were referred to or introduced themselves) as ‘wife of’ or ‘mother of’.   The use of first names had a liberating effect in creating a social group that has sustained itself.   The resulting images attracted serious media coverage globally, which in turn resulted in earnings for the women. Together we all excitedly discussed ideas for our project and connections to Dharavi Art Room; from mural projects to video and storytelling initiatives and projects that sought to connect specific communities to those in Rio, Soweto and beyond.   We left this meeting feeling that we had found a natural partner for projects that would truly draw on the talents and imaginations of local communities.

Our final day took us to the old world grandeur of the Bombay Gymkhana Members’ Club to meet with Sheela 20141205_140917Patel of SPARC.   A stimulating conversation in surroundings that took in the major buildings of the Colaba district of Mumbai helped us understand more about the context in which we might work.   Sheela was wonderfully open and generous as she described both the context and infrastructures that exist in Mumbai and the possibilities for projects.   The Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers (SPARC) began working with the most vulnerable and invisible of Mumbai’s urban poor – the pavement dwellers. The philosophy is that if we can develop solutions that work for the poorest and most marginalised in the city, then these solutions can be scaled up to work for other groups of the urban poor across the country and internationally.   As we watched the sun set over playing fields and heritage buildings, we agreed that we would stay in touch to find other connections that would feed the development of our project.

And that brought to a close an amazing journey through three vast cities made up of individuals with stories as bright as the sun that rose the next morning for our flight home.   Mumbai, Soweto and Rio: thank you for helping us understand our project and the directions we could take, and most importantly for showing us the universal themes in our lives with openness, generosity and beauty.

Photo: A Street Market 

Home – Conceived by Dave Reeves with Bill Mitchell and produced by Zap Art in collaboration with artistic lead WildWorks. Supported using public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

cropped-190252_198673736831155_180892_n55.jpg  WildworksPrint


‘Home’ Research and Development: Soweto, November 2014

Sunday – Soweto! Ntokoze Dube our guide took us on an informal walk around Kliptown, the area our Hotel is based in. The Soweto Hotel has fantastic links with the local community; it is based in the famous Freedom Square where Mandela and 3000 delegates wrote the freedom charter in 1955. Across the rail tracks is a very poor shantytown, with no electricity or mains water and sewage system. Soweto is huge and many faceted, smart new houses and large shopping malls contrast with the tin shacks and street stalls near our hotel. In this neighbourhood we met ‘Brother Bob’ (Nameng) and his Sky (Soweto Kliptown Youth) project. Bob was born in Kliptown, but was fostered after becoming an orphan, he told us how he had escaped this harsh foster ‘home’ when ‘Mama Eva’ came to find Bob and his brother and bring them to her home. He was relieved to be back in Kliptown, a racially and culturally diverse area and happy to be in a loving home with Eva. He developed a passion for helping the children in this community, and as a result in 1985 he set up a youth club and after-school creative programme KCYC. Wanting to expand his work to include all ages, he set up the Sky project (1987), an international project including a boarding school, free meals, recording studio, holiday clubs with creative and sporting activities, and a learning centre open to anyone in his community; one of Bob’s strong beliefs being ‘a community that reads is an intelligent community’. Sky has an exchange programme with students from the USA, links with Warwick University and the NBA Basketball without Borders. Brother Bob is at the heart of this community and Sky is a haven for the local youth, providing a home, education and the chance to go out into the wider world with their music tours.

We would be proud to engage with the work of SKY, and Bob would like to make more international links and be part of Home.

On Monday a very different visit took us to The Soweto Theatre, a beautiful newly built theatre – the first in Soweto. We met Carl Johnson, the General Manager and Warona Khosi the Artistic Programme Director and Robert Motseko who works manages Marketing and Community Engagement. One of Carl’s main aims is to reach more of the local community as his audiences and participants. Warona was very interested in Bill’s extensive experience in community engagement in his previous WildWorks’ projects, in the context of the forthcoming anniversary of June 1976, the death of Hector Pieterson during a student uprising. Warona would like to develop a way for the Soweto Theatre to go into the community and devise with them, hoping to create a piece that used the setting of Soweto in a similar way to WildWorks’ embedded use of site and landscape in their productions. The forthcoming project would need to commemorate the historical event, but also, importantly, look forward to a positive future for Soweto. Carl explained some of the political complexities of the 1976 Uprising, his background as a British born man, brought up in a liberal East Cape South African home, gave him a fascinating overview of the situation.

We hope to work closely with The Soweto Theatre; the meeting was full of interest and positivity.

On Tuesday we met with Phaphama Initiatives, an NGO that covers many areas: it promotes tourism, runs workshops on conflict resolution, gender reconciliation (with USA ‘help increase peace’ HIP), support work in schools, correction institutes, and in the community, they teach skills of mentoring and finding alternative employment, they run a youth entrepreneurial school (YES) for over 16year olds, a project bringing together people with relevant skills and students requiring mentoring. Africa Mzaku, the Arts and Culture Director, outlined this stream of their work. He described it as a Post-apartheid community arts movement to encourage social mobility. Outdoor work is one of its main features, they have worked with French Theatre Company L’Epidores and a Belgian Arts Agency Frans Brood, they have curated an artistic tour and staged theatre performances, dance and music in their outside space. Dutch artists have come over to swap skills with South African teachers. We discussed what area might be best for our project in Soweto. Africa suggested the Bramfischer ville community would be a suitably diverse community, then, on reflection, answered:

‘I think your project can work anywhere.’

Later that day we met Zanele Mashumi an artist. She was born in Soweto and studied art in Johannesburg. Zanele runs her own company hosting art exhibitions in cafes, pop up galleries, and abandoned buildings. She was well informed and very interested in Home. Bill was impressed with her photographic project where USA students gave cameras to Kliptown residents, including children, and asked them to take their own photographs on a variety of themes. The resulting photos were very poignant, we felt we had made a fantastic link for our project. Zanele is also interested in using installations to reflect the lives of the local community:

‘People’s voices really matter.’

On Wednesday we met with Arts Township International, the meeting included Bangani Ngwenya the Director, Ro
lihlahla Mhlanga the Manager, and Mandla Tshabalala who sponsors Eyethu Cellardoor. ATI run an International Lifestyle Centre, including Soweto’s first wine cellar, where a photographic exhibition is being hosted from the 13th November. They turn homes into galleries and use local people’s houses to display art works. They are about to launch a graffiti route, and plan to revamp a defunct cinema on their land into a performing arts development gallery. Their overall aim is to map out a cultural district in Soweto. They plan to liaise with favelas in Rio and already work in Cape Town’s KCD (Kayamandi Creative District). ATI have links with Soweto Theatre and have discussed with Warona the idea of ‘flash mobs’ to bring performance to township people who, generally, do not seek culture inside buildings. They informed us about the links they have with educational institutions, and creative companies such as dance studios, film studios etc. We finished off with a tour of the new wine cellar and caught a preview of the photographic exhibition by Jerry Obakeng Gaegane Market Photo Workshop, beautiful photos documenting the lives of illegal gold prospectors. Bill Mitchell presented the story of WildWorks and Zap outlined how they we might work together, their response was:

‘You came to the right people.’

A few more contacts friends a were made during the trip, Sakhile Skhosana from Publication Design House who works with video and design and supports Soweto musicians by providing them with portfolios, and Victor a TV producer and director. Lastly, but not least, the one off collector, storyteller, and man of many names, Om Bolo ‘Father of Kliptown’. We felt immediately at home in his extended house of historical IMG_7970kitchens and other artefacts, including a huge prison tape-recorder with reels of tape recorded during the apartheid era. Om Bola cooked us a traditional Soweton meal, using bowls, plates and a calabash from three of his South African kitchens. The meal was amazing and Om regaled us with fascinating stories about his life in Kliptown, poverty, memories of Mandela and the events during the student uprising. Om was photographer, for five years, on the innovative, multi-racial ‘Drum’ magazine. He has worked as a cultural researcher and plans to document ‘The Unsung Heroes’ of Soweto. On politics, culture, and Kliptown family life, Om was an eloquent speaker. A skill he says he learnt outside by the light of a brazier and In front of ‘the teardrops of the candlelight’.

We were met with a very warm welcome in Soweto, and look forward to returning.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Photo: Outside the home of Om Bolo

Home – Conceived by Dave Reeves with Bill Mitchell and produced by Zap Art in collaboration with artistic lead WildWorks. Supported using public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

cropped-190252_198673736831155_180892_n55.jpg  WildworksPrint

Zap Art: The ‘Home’ Team

Dave Reeves, Executive Producer

Dave Reeves has worked extensively throughout the outdoor arts sector during his career. He is one of the founding directors of the Zap Club and Zap Productions and is currently the Artistic Advisor to the Zap Art Board of Trustees and Associate Artistic Director. Dave was one of the five creative producers for London 2012: Showtime, the Major of London’s and London 2012 Cultural Olympiad outdoor arts festival. He has previously produced major cultural projects such as two Japanese festivals in Hyde Park (1991 & 2001 Japanese Matsuri Festival) and outdoor events for the BBC (BBC Music Live 2000, Brighton. BBC Radio 1 25th Anniversary 1983, Birmingham). Through Zap Art, Dave has established highly successful partnerships between UK partners and French street art festivals with funding from the European Union through Interreg. The most recent partnership, ZEPA 2008 – 2012 (European Zone of Artistic Projects) had a 6.25 million euro budget working with street arts across southern England and northern France. Dave was also one of the founding partners of the Without Walls consortium and a key partner in the European street arts project Insitu.

Veronica Stephens, Associate Producer

After spending 15 years working in Japanese film and television production, Veronica switched tracks and since 1999 has been working as a creative producer in the world of street arts and circus, specializing in outdoor site specific theatre and working with communities. She has worked as an associate producer with Zap Art for 14 years, on many large scale, high profile international partnership projects and co-commissions including most recently: ZEPA projects Newhaven Cormorant! (Generic Vapeur, 2011), Barricade (No Fit State, 2010/12), Transe Express in Truro and Southampton (2009/10), Like A Fish Out Of Water part of Mayor of London’s Secrets – Hidden London (English National Ballet, seven sisters group, 2012). In 2013, working with writer Sara Clifford, she co-conceived and produced Our Dancing Feet. They had collaborated previously in 2012 on The Port The Beast & The Traveller. In 2007/08 she worked with WildWorks on the production of Souterrain in Brighton & Hastings.

Elizabeth Bennett, Research Coordinator

Elizabeth is an AHRC funded Postgraduate research student at Royal Holloway University of London’s Drama and Theatre Department. Her PHD thesis covers contemporary British outdoor arts; she advocates for greater critical and academic interest in this sector. Her research includes the work of companies such as WildWorks, Generik Vapeur, Cie Carabosse, Same Sky, Emergency Exit Arts and Welfare State International. Elizabeth has worked previously for Zap Art on various projects including Our Dancing Feet (2013/14), Like A Fish Out Of Water (2012), Newhaven Cormorant! (2011) and La Photo Communale II (2011).

Zap Art awarded Arts Council Research and Development Grant for ‘Home’

Zap Art are pleased to announce that we have been awarded £15,000 development funding from the Arts Council England’s Grants For The Arts Scheme for the research and development of a new international multi-partnered cultural project. ‘Home’ will continue to build on Zap Art’s core way of working developed over our 30 years of experience and will focus on the main areas of:

  • Partnerships Consolidating and expanding partnerships working with communities, local, regional, national and international partners across a diversity of sectors (arts, heritage, education, community business, government).
  • Education and Outreach Working with schools, colleges, community groups, artists, universities and heritage organisations to develop skills, widening access to arts, culture and heritage.
  • Production Development of high quality, multi disciplinary, cross art form work through commissioning or co-producing to enhance cultural programmes and inspire audiences.
  • Artists Increasing funding available and offering professional development opportunities to support artists in the creation of new work in diverse contexts and settings.

‘Home’ aims to be a truly global piece of high profile, high quality art. It will be based around the basic human right to have a home, exploring major global issues around homelessness; a problem that both unites and divides communities around the world. Starting in London in 2015 and leading up to the Olympic Celebrations in Rio 2016, ‘Home’ will be a major international collaboration with leading artists and performers in their fields. A cross art form initiative drawing on the varied arts, musical, dance and theatrical cultures, traditions and influences of each location, ‘Home’ will be a project with deep rooted international community engagement and opportunities for participation on many different levels.

The project will include partnerships and networks created by a programme of workshops, conferences and performances. Home will form relationships with a variety of different partner organisations such as: slum dwellers associations, homeless charities, international development organisations and agencies, local authorities, municipal governments, schools and universities, local and international artists – exploring the concept that a problem shared can be a problem solved.

The performances will take place in four locations across the globe, culminating in a finale performance in the Favelas to coincide with the cultural Olympiad celebrations in Rio 2016. Workshops and seminars will also take place in each host location around alternating themes of homelessness and it’s related issues, cultural advocacy, creative participation, multi-partnership projects and the outdoor arts sector, with all partners travelling to Rio for a major conference around ‘Home’.

Throughout the development of ‘Home’ Zap Art will be using this blog to provide updates on the progress of the project, including forthcoming information about the production team, our advisory board, and our artistic partners. Zap Art is an independent charity and one of the UK’s leading creative producers, internationally renowned for introducing powerful arts experiences to new audiences. Empowering artists to push the boundaries of artistic forms, breaking the boundaries of the way art is perceived and experienced. We create cultural exchanges with big impact, to bring alive unusual spaces www.zapart.co.uk

Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/