In the beginning, the ladies asked that what is a map? The discussion was on ‘naksha’ a diagram of their interpretation of the neighbourhood.
I had to talk about how we follow a naksha/map when we travel to a new place or a country. I also mentioned the earlier sessions of map making where they drew the naksha/map of their mobility throughout the day with crayons, the same way they would be depicting a map of Meena Bazaar and the neighbourhood. The ladies were ready to do a new experimental map.
So the exercise has started with a layout, sketching on A4 size paper with crayons. Then they slowly move to the canvas. As we know, that these ladies had taken a signi cant interest in and passion about using paints on the cloth earlier, this time they were keen to explore the bigger surface. I made the initiative as an artist, to explore how they perceive a map using paints on a sixteen feet canvas.
The map is a bird’s eye depiction of the neighbourhood by the women. The immersion went through a yearlong engagement with them in the shelter (rain basera).
A group of nine ladies sat across the elongated canvas and painted the vibrant Meena Bazaar and the vicinity. The painting was a two-dimensional, created with bright colours. They did not have any training in art, and this was the rst time they were working on big canvas with acrylic colours. However, the ladies were not at all hesitant and seemed to be quite con dent in using a new material to express their experiences.
Each lady depicted the favourite places in the neighbourhood taking small portions of the canvas. They happily painted huge Jama Masjid and its courtyard where the people take rest, the ‘Patri’ , the garment & accessory( jewellery, slippers, purse and etc) market, ‘Sabzi Bazar’, vegetable market, the outside area around the shelter, where the ladies generally sit leisurely in the daytime, the garden behind Jama Masjid, the only place they nd green meadow and owers around the area, biryani shops & food joints and other vital sites.
The ladies got involved in painting the big canvas very spontaneously. In comparison to earlier engagement with painting (on cloth in a small round shaped wooden frame), this time they were more confident and enjoyed using thick brushes. Each day, they sat at a particular time and did the painting. My presence gradually was not required every time as they steadily took the responsibility to continue with the artwork of their own in my absence. Each of them organised their own time in between busy schedule of their commitments. The painting became like a booster for them and an incentive to live their daily life.
Further, they were thrilled to depict their neighbourhood with bright colour. Most of the ladies took single colour (black) to draw a borderline and then filled up the colours, but some of them, also directly painted with colour without keeping any boundary. The skill of using brushes and what style they were going to use, was entirely their decision. Everyone in her way used the red, blue and green acrylic paint, yet the colour was well distributed in the whole canvas. However, it was tough to distinguish each style of painting.
The map on the lives in Meena Bazar and its vicinity amplified the vibrancy of life, compared to what we see in real life.
The nine ladies deftly recreated the miniature form of the vibrant market. The long painting of Meena Bazaar was displayed in India Art fair in February 2017 and also in British Council, New Delhi on March 8, Women’s Day, 2017. The ladies went to see their painting at the British Council one afternoon. They were so excited to travel outside their vicinity and also being invited to visit an unknown place. They were overwhelmed to see the massive building of British Council and then they could not grasp at first sight, that how the work of art, which they have done for months displayed in a big hall. They could not imagine the significance of the work till they reached British Council. It was a pleasant experience for them.
They spent the day loitering around the institution building, enjoying the snacks and returned the shelter with astonishment and satisfaction.
After painting on a big canvas, the ladies were thrilled and they wanted to paint more. This time, we decided not to do on an extended surface instead sketch in detail the shops around in the Meena Bazaar. This second set of 10 paintings portrayed on single canvases of 2×3 ft size. Binu depicted Patri (market of clothes, accessories) Tarannum drew a massive monument of Jama Masjid with an orange background. She wanted to map through her painting, the tea stalls around the Mosque/masjid. Rabina, who is quite mobile and goes beyond the Meena bazaar and open market, illustrated the sh and chicken market, which is across the road. She says that most of the ladies go there to buy sh and leftover parts of the chicken. They know the shopkeepers for several years and get discount, sometimes free of cost also. Shahzadee, painted a map of interesting biriyani shops, located at the bottom of the Jama Masjid. She is very friendly to one of the shopkeepers, though she sometimes tries biriyani from the other shops also for a change in taste. Shabina, who seldom goes out of the shelter, occasionally visit the vegetable market with her children in the evening time. These are mobile shops on the cart, around the tent. Sabina very neatly represented a map of the shelter and the fruit market in her work. Sunita had shown fruit market, Reshma, juice shop, Ritu, garden behind the mosque, Shabrun, herbal medicines, Parveen, school around the Jama Masjid.
The Open day was on the 19 March 2017, evening at 3 pm. It was a Sunday afternoon, and the Meena Bazaar was overloaded with Sunday market crowd, since morning. The market in Meena Bazaar expands and accommodates more sellers from other parts of the city. It is usually old and famous for cheap goods. It ows down around the Urdu Park. This is the market where the ladies from the shelter buy their clothes.
The program of the Open day was the display of original canvases painted by the ladies along with the text and few maps on paper created by the student of Ambedkar University.
Apart from that the artworks like printed canvases, posters, page marks, postcards, mugs round framed wall hanging from the earlier production was displayed on a table. They were all for sale. We also got an opportunity to have a small street
theatre company who came and performed in the shelter premise. There was a plan for a walk in Meena Bazaar escorted by the ladies was in the program. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Some visitors initially took interest to walk in the crowded market, but nally came back to the shelter, as it was impossible to intervene into the crowded place, there was hardly any space to step in.
The Third Phase
As we were aware of the threat of pulling down of Meena Bazar, open market , along with their tin shade temporary accommodation, we have decided to paint the map on every object that is sold or available in the shops of the market.
The first object we chose were the ladies slippers those are available in the pavement shops of Meena Bazaar. At the time of buying the sandals, we had to negotiate with the shopkeepers a lot. The shopkeepers did a discount, as they know few of them very well.
We bought 18 pairs of the slippers, and the ladies painted maps on that. The idea of making a design on each object like slippers, other items are to use the map as an inscription of experiences of the ladies. The slippers were displayed as a part of Art Reach Mela December 2017, in Bikaner House, New Delhi.
The next phase was focused on the kitchen garden. We bought pieces long thin plastic pipe (each 2feet) to encircle the garden area with a net. Then we put the plant seeds in the ground. The ladies water the eld every day so that the soil remains wet. Even the SPYM staff are very supportive. But suddenly, one day, everything turned upside down when Delhi Government staff came and encroached and started digging the ground, everything went on the mess. They did not even bother to listen to us. The idea of drilling the eld was to build a new room and renovating the toilets.
The consequences of building new toilets were the kitchen garden got messed up. The way they design the sewer system, that most of the toilet water comes into the yard. So the dream of creating a kitchen garden went in vain. For months we struggled to go into the shade and making the staff of Delhi Government shelter understood that we need the space for the garden. How is it possible to break through the notice of the making of new toilets?
Moreover, they also started renovating the oor of the tin shelter, forcing the ladies to take all their bed and other belongings out of the tin shade. It happened without any prior information. The oor was made, but till date, they were not allowed to bring back their beds inside the shelter home. They built two big PVC rooms. However, these ladies were not allowed to use those. They also did a blue paint over the beautiful wall painting, which these ladies did. For more months, space was under construction, making these ladies homeless for some time.