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Close to major cities all over the world, Delhi has bloated into an unsustainable entity via the influx of millions of impoverished rural and small-town migrants, who create their own precarious settlements, infrastructure and relational circuits in whatever corner they can find, tenaciously persisting against all odds and becoming permanent residents of the city over time and over generations. This migrant working class is subject to modes of urban alienation, even while the city enlarges these communities’ frames of reference, dismantles provincial prejudices, and offers a range of new affiliations and autonomies. The constant attempts at gentrifying and displacment is also bringing homelessness levels up. A large section of homeless population is floating which is significantly an affects of rapid gentrification within the city. However, the ‘developing’ urban habitat (paradoxically both hostile and hospitable) of seductive modernity and burgeoning capital also significantly enables personal and collective expression through its function as a social interface, fostering connectivity, ingenuity and informal local networks and ecologies that crucially allow an uprooted and disenfranchised demographic to not only survive conditions of deprivation, but in fact to thrive.
Urdu park at Jama Masjid surrounded by green trees with a large playground for the children is one of those places, situated at the edge of the old city where the destitute women and children have been put up in a shelter. This is a consequences of demolishing slums along the side of the Yamuna bank since 1975 and also the outcome of women from different parts of the country are forced to leave their families for domestic violence and lack of physical, financial and emotional security and eventually become homeless.
Technically these women who lives at the shelter in Urdu Park are ‘single’, they are seldom alone and carry multiple burdens associated with previous and current relationships that have exploited their freedom and compromised their health and physical and mental security. Sometimes the issues of health become so grave that it threatens their survival, especially infants. The main occupation of these women is begging.
Drawing upon previous experience at the initial stage of the project ‘Axial Margin Urdu Park ‘, Jama Masjid, the artists, facilator have explored how single homeless women (18-40) from different parts/ villages of the country negotiate with the changes in their everyday life that has to accommodate the new space like shelter and the pressures of urban public life. They have also explored how they confront with the shifts in in personal identity , aspirations, anguish, vulnerability. These have happened through informal dialogue through various sessions taken place at the shelter for past three months ( April- July 2015).
2015 – Present
Ongoing community art project Axial Margins, Urdu Park, the Revue artists (Sreejata Roy, Mrityunjay Chatterjee) is working in collaboration with the coordinators of Society for Promotion of Youth & Masses (SPYM). SPYM who runs the shelter has experience of working with the women on the site mentioned above for past several years. The artist duo explores how to make a space for exploratory dialogue and experimental creation, and to assess how much these women integrally value the area. The artists have chosen the process of collective decision making within the framework of their interventions.
The artists initiated design of the space, where the processes and expressions range from the more traditional, yielding conventional objects or events to research-based approaches that engender new conceptual frameworks for creative intervention.
The artists are primarily exploring two ways of developing space in collaboration with women at the shelter:
> How art plays a vital role in changing opinion and perspective and build up a sense of trust and responsibility within the group to shape up a community.
> How the space Urdu Park is to be materially ‘reformed’ – i.e., restructured and adapted for new usage
> The collective decision-making process about such ‘reform’, incorporating the opinions, needs and (as far as possible) the demands of multiple claimants to the ‘shared space.’
Through applying this strategy, which is also a firm personal conviction of the artists, each person in the shelter develops a sense of ownership and responsibility. To enable this, the artists organise a series of sessions with various groups within and beyond the neighbourhood, with the women in the shelter and also other agencies across the project.