Mumbai’s shanties, like many other pockets of the country, have always borne a single shade of blue, thanks to tarpaulin on the roofs. Adding more than just a hint of colour to the vast canvas this year is Samir Parker with his project Roof/Tarp/City. With help from the locals in the respective areas, he mapped out parts of different localities and gave a graphic makeover to over 10,000 square metres of rooftops across the cityscape.
“The idea was to create a series of beautiful imagery visible from the air and satellite,” says Samir, who has designed installations, exhibitions and publications for Bodhi Art, the London School of Economics, Unicef and the Venice Biennale. “So, I asked local boys to imagine a game-board or puzzle of interlocking forms coming together. I had intended for the visual composition to emerge from the process. Using tarpaulin opened up a whole new approach to the act of image making,” he says.
How did the colours come together? “Our palette was chosen for maximum contrast — each rooftop, a single block of colour or pixel. The abstract nature of the composition made various participants see it differently. We would discuss their views and the final graphic decisions were made on site in real time using phone cameras and WhatsApp,” he adds.
Samir’s efforts to find a location encountered many difficulties thanks to local authorities and thugs who wanted a piece of the pie. “For those who dwell in these irregular settlements, any outside interference is viewed with suspicion.
Material assistance often opens up internal jealousies and demands; local politicians and thugs try to muscle in on the opportunity. My search for a site was defined by several requirements such as the size of the area, access, visibility and most importantly, community participation.
“I found partners in Raja and Reshma Keshavan, residents of Murugan Chawl (in Khar). Well-networked in the large area, they managed every aspect of the work efficiently. Our basic team comprised 10 boys, but almost all the teenagers of the area got involved,” he says. So far, Samir has worked on three sites —in Bandra Murugan Chawl (168 homes), Bandra Reclamation (approximately 400 homes) and Bandra Camp/ Rang Sharda (224 homes).
The best part of his job he says is the smile on the faces of the community members. “The work ethic and irreverent humour of the boys who worked in tough conditions made my task relatively easy. The pride in the communities for their location is probably the most enduring aspect of the whole project. The idea of marking their own home on the map, visible to satellites above, was a constant source of motivation for residents in the areas.”
Samir now plans to explore the idea of art on wheels with his next project. “I do hope that the Roof/Tarp/City idea gains traction and extends to other areas before the next monsoon season. Meanwhile, I am taking the concept further, using the roofs of autorickshaws. Both from inside and outside, the flat surface of the roof offers an opportunity to personalise each auto. I have been speaking to a number of auto drivers towards developing a template that works for an individual auto and then when 10, 50 or 200 autos come together, it creates a larger urban artwork. The ordinary act of catching and riding an auto now has the potential to become a real human engagement or even an urban exploration. The dynamism and reach this can have is truly exciting,” he says about his self-funded next project.