Mills as Public Spaces: Mumbai’s Industrial Heritage

In Mumbai, public awareness of urban arts and heritage has experienced a significant revival in the past ten years in the same historical moment when manufacturing industries have closed and factories emptied throughout Greater Mumbai. Heritage discourse and conservation practice have only implicitly acknowledged this economic context. Since the Bombay Textile Strike of 1982-3, entire working-class communities across the city have been retrenched and dispersed in the Mill and Dock Lands of central Mumbai, the chemical and engineering factories and industrial estates in suburban Mumbai, and across the Metropolitan Region.

Machinery in Kohinoor Mills no.1-2, Dadar (East), 2002
Machinery in Kohinoor Mills no.1-2, Dadar (East), 2002

With job losses going into tens of lakhs, and uncertain growth prospects for Mumbai, several years ago the media and civic elite began speaking of the “death of the city” they once knew, whereas planners and academics eagerly awaited the birth of a new “global city”. However one described this restructuring of the city’s economy, it is clear that manufacturing has declined in value compared to the new service industries, not just in Mumbai but in big cities throughout the world. The post-industrial landscapes of London’s Docklands and New York’s Lower Manhattan are oft-cited symbols of this change monstrous, gleaming high-rise districts dominated by banking, finance, and white-collar services. In today’s urban economy, the making and marketing of immaterial signs has replaced the production of durable goods as the primary circuit of wealth creation.

The concepts and practices of cultural heritage, architectural conservation, and public arts, (whether they realise it or not) are enmeshed in this new economy of image production. While buildings are still very much made of brick and mortar (or steel and RCC), the production of images of the urban built environment is one of the intangible, high-value commodities of the global city. Whether in the space-age absurdity of Hafeez Contractor’s garden city in Powai, or the sepia-tinted romanticism of the South Bombay heritage enthusiasts, the value of a building has less to do with its physical qualities than its iconic presence as an object of consumption. So it is not difficult to explain the phenomenal growth of concepts and practices of heritage conservation in Mumbai.

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Future Academies

Lecture at the Future Academy Symposium at the Edinburgh College Art School of Architecture, March 2005, later published in Geetha Narayanan, ed., Tana Bana: Srishti School of Art Design & Technology Bangalore at Ars Electronica 2005 in Linz, Austria, August 2005.

Two distinct but inter-related phenomena have been dramatically reshaping the environments of academic institutions in India over the past five years. The first phenomenon is the widespread dissemination of networked media and information technologies, and the challenge this poses to large centralised structures, such as academic institutions and state bureaucracies. The second phenomenon is the decline of the traditional arts, humanities, and social sciences in the social prestige and market value they once commanded, and the erosion of the principle of liberal education and citizenship they represented. Taken together, these two technological and cultural shifts necessarily disrupt the institutional moorings of arts education, creating new spaces both inside and outside the academy for new pedagogic practices, which the academies of the future must seize on.

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Mumbai Industrial Museum

Machinery in Kohinoor Mills no.1-2, Dadar (East), 2002
Machinery in Kohinoor Mills no.1-2, Dadar (East), 2002

This is a a proposal for a grant to develop the idea of an Industrial Museum in the Mill Lands of Mumbai. .

You can also download the PDF of this proposal which was supported by a seed grant from the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA), Bangalore in 2004-2005, much before the landmark court case on the Mumbai Mill Lands in 2005-2006.

Rajesh Vora’s photography of the NTC mills was published in Darryl D’Monte, ed., Mills for Sale: The Way Ahead (Mumbai: MARG, 2006). Collaborators Ashok G. Bapat and Raj Chandavarkar expired in 2006, and Arvind Adarkar in 2013.

This project was conceived much before proposals in 2013-2014 for a textile or mill museum in India United Mills no.2 (Alexandra Mills) in Kalachowki, now in municipal possession and reserved as an open heritage space.

1. Introduction

The Mumbai Industrial Museum Collaboration seeks to address the crisis of civic imagination driven by two dramatic transformations in our contemporary urban landscapes — the deindustrialisation of manufacturing and production, and the dematerialisation of culture and information.

These parallel transformations have replaced large-scale factories and organised urban working classes with dispersed networks of subcontracted and informal production in slums and hinterlands on the one hand; and on the other hand, they have replaced the space of the traditional museum, library and archive with virtual networks of communications, entertainment and commerce. While these historic industrial and technological changes are common to cities across the world, in Mumbai their articulation in the public sphere remains deeply contested and polarised.

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