Press release

Art and health in the slums: exploring the health concerns of Mumbai’s poorest communities

Dharavi, one of the most disadvantaged areas of Mumbai, India, is to be home to an ambitious art exhibition that has brought together residents, artists and health professionals to express the health concerns that affect its more than one million residents.

Through the initiative, 'Dekha Undekha' ('Seen Unseen'), local people from the Mumbai slums of Dharavi and Shastri Nagar, Santacruz, have been introduced to artists working with textiles, photography and ceramics to explore themes including sanitation, personal hygiene, domestic violence, maternal health and superstitions. The mentors have helped the locals develop their skills and create artworks, which will be displayed at an exhibition opening in the heart of the community, at a school in Dharavi.

The project, which is being funded by the Wellcome Trust, is led by Priya Agrawal from the Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action and Dr David Osrin from the Institute for Global Health, University College London.

Dr Osrin explains: "Urban health is a big concern for India and many different organisations are working to improve it. It seemed to us that different groups - residents, health experts, artists - should speak with each other more than they do. This is helping give a voice to local residents at the same time as nurturing their artistic talent and raising awareness of important health issues."

"It is important to us that we hold the exhibition in Dharavi to reach out to locals who are sure to identify with the concerns of the participants. We also want to help broaden people's perceptions of the area and allow Mumbai's residents to recognise Dharavi as a space that is commercial and artistic."

The concept behind 'Dekha Undekha' was based on three smaller ideas: first, to arrange for local people with artistic skills to work together with established artists; second, to help them discuss urban health issues that they face in their everyday lives, and to use the issues as inspiration for artworks; and third, to work with health experts to make sure that the artworks would be meaningful and important.

Agrawal adds: "Our goal is for the artworks in 'Dekha Undekha' to be challenging and beautiful. Along the way - and maybe more importantly - we hope that the process of working together has given both sets of artists new ideas about health issues and creative ways to look at them. Through many workshops, the artists have bounced ideas off each other and worked together to create a truly collaborative installation. Their enthusiasm has been boundless and it has been marvellous to see their skills and confidence in sharing new ideas growing all the time."

The first artwork to emerge from the collaborations is 'Ghari/Ghar pe/At home', a representation of a home interior in which all the furniture and household goods will be manifestations of women's health concerns. It is intended as an installation about many things: home, health, family and friends, and dreams for health and happiness, for success, and for the future.

Visitors will be able to examine the features of the 'room' close up. Every piece, from the smallest to the largest, was conceived collaboratively and combines photography, ceramics and textile art.

The mentor artists associated with the 'Dekha Undekha' programme are photojournalist Sudharak Olwe, ceramic artists Anjani Khanna, Rashi Jain and Neha Kudchadkar, installation artist Nandita Kumar, and textile artist Susie Vickery.