Excursion to Dharavi

By Sushrut Patgaonkar

Mumbai is a city of 20 million dreams, we journeyed to Dharavi where a million of those dreams live, work and pray. We walked for 2 hours to get to the heart of the Dharavi slums. Dharavi houses soap and leather goods manufacturing along with recycling industries.

The first stop on our visit was at a micro-theatre. The micro theatre is a small darkened room with a TV; the latest movies are played here. Entry is 0.3 dollars in Indian currency.

We continued on to a metal recycling area where pieces of metal are melted in a furnace where temperatures reach as high as 60 degrees in the summer!


Next we observed the textile printing sheds where they use liquid wax to make prints. As the wax has to be in a constant liquid state there are no fans for ventilation, in the summers temperatures rise to 45-50 degrees.


Later we visited a plastic recycling centre. Here the workers jobs are to separate the plastics by type, this is determined by burning a small part of each piece of plastic and inhaling the fumes – each type gives off a different smell. This job is extremely hazardous to the workers.


I was particularly surprised to see fully automated embroidery machines in Dharavi.

Embroidery machine, Dharavi.

We also saw the living quarters of the workers. The worker’s homes are about the size of the interior of an SUV, the lanes between living spaces are only a foot apart. It is hard to imagine how someone could live in such a claustrophobic place.


The manufacture of metal sub-assemblies happens here in the slums away from the vibrant Mumbai. Most of the industries here in Dharavi employ the use of people and craftsmen rather than machines for finishing and manufacturing.


In this picture a worker is washing a container with an industrial grade solvent which is used to dissolve and remove oil paint from metal. The worker handles the solvent with his bare hands; this is another example of the everyday living and working conditions here in Dharavi.


The life expectancy of the locals in Dharavi is no more than 50 years due to such hazardous conditions.

Dharavi sweets

This is a new type of treat popular among the kids here; it is candy that is wrapped around a stick to resemble a flower.

Overall this trip was an emotional experience for me. I was born and raised in Mumbai but I had never known this part of my country. But despite of all the harsh living and working conditions the people in Dharavi still have smiles on their faces. It really makes you reconsider your ideas about happiness and the value we assign to life.

A Trip to the Barabar Caves

By Shubha Khandekar

The India team of Lord Cultural Resources has recently visited the Barabar caves located in the state of Bihar, India, in regards to the Bihar Museum’s exhibition design project, in which our firm is currently involved.

Barabar Caves

The Lord India team at Barabar Caves, Bihar. Left to Right:
Last Row: Jan Beringer, Eric Leyland
Mid Row: Poulomi Das, Batul Raaj Mehta, Tanvi Shah, Sushrut Patgaonkar
Bottom Row: Rajiv Kumar, Shubha Khandekar, Yashmi P. George, Akanksha Jain, Barabar Cave Guide.
Photo by Lord Cultural Resources.

Meandering over an exotic landscape of low hills strewn with large, well-rounded boulders, in sharp contrast to the vast Gangetic plains of Bihar, we reached the base of the cluster of hills on which stand the oldest surviving rock cut caves of India, perhaps of the world: four in the Barabar and three in the Nagarjuni groups. For their historical significance, these caves form an important exhibit at the Bihar Museum, for which we are the Master Planning Consultants and also designing the exhibits.

Majestic in the beauty of their rawness, the caves incorporate deep acoustics that make them ideally suited for chanting and meditation in seclusion while the inscriptions at the entrance reveal that they were carved by Emperor Asoka for the Ajivika ascetics 2300 years ago.

The Barabar Caves were featured by the British writer, E.M. Forster, in his novel A Passage To India and in the 1984 movie based on the book directed by David Lean. Forster visited the caves on one of his two visits to India. Struck by their curious echo, he used them as a central location in his book, renaming them “The Marabar Caves” for the story.

To A Long Life…

By Ngaire Blankenberg

This article was previously published at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights’ blog.

Mourners outside Mandela and Machel house Friday Dec 6, 2013. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

Mourners outside Mandela and Machel house Friday Dec 6, 2013. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

On the night Mandela died, I went to his house and joined the gathering- singing, dancing and reflecting. On my way home, at about 2:00 a.m., I was stopped by a roadblock. Suddenly, the whole convoy was in front of me. First the rows of military motorbikes, then the hearse. With crystal clarity, I saw his coffin wrapped in the South African flag, and with that, I knew it was really over. I sat crying, alone in my car on a deserted Johannesburg street- mourning my Madiba and all he represented for me.

Mourners outside Mandela and Graca Machel's house, Thursday December 5, 2013. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

Mourners outside Mandela and Graca Machel’s house, Thursday December 5, 2013. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

What a period of mourning it has been. Charged, emotional, incredulous, tender, sad- all the stages of grief and more. These last weeks, we have been thanking Mandela for many things- for hope, for reconciliation, for leadership, for freedom. I thank him also for reminding us how right it is to mourn a man who lived for 95 years.

Mourner with candle, Friday December 6, 2013. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

Mourner with candle, Friday December 6, 2013. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

I don’t live in South Africa anymore but was there this week- arriving in Johannesburg on the day before Mandela died and then flying down to Cape Town with the Museum of AIDS in Africa. We set up our (Virtual) Memorial at the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa asking people if they would like to remember someone they cared about who had died from an AIDS-related illness.

Tribute in Cape Town.

Tribute in Cape Town.

She was loving and caring to the whole family and I still miss her so much because I can’t live without her, I love you mom. Cecelia Sithembu remembered by Nosipho Sithembu

She was my best friend and the time she died, she had hoped that she was going to be fine. Susan Mandanda, remembered by B Mazanve

I remember you defending me to mom when I couldn’t eat specific foods. You were always so kind and loving. I hope you’re watching over my cousins. Botshelo Sepheka remembered by Ofentse Mohatla

Many people who visited us had lost more than one person to AIDS. One woman had lost 35 people. Many were so busy surviving they couldn’t mourn properly- so busy trying themselves to stay alive, or to take care of others.

People filling out Memorial cards, Museum of AIDS in Africa, ICASA, Cape Town, photo Lindeka Qampi. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

People filling out Memorial cards, Museum of AIDS in Africa, ICASA, Cape Town, photo Lindeka Qampi. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

During apartheid, many people disappeared. Eventually they were assumed to have died. No closure. Stuttered grief. Others died through the violence or were murdered by the state. Funerals were mobilization. Grief fuelled anger, anger fuelled action. In this AIDS epidemic, funerals are also about anger, or they are about silences, desperation. Cause of death unknown. Too little, too late.

But this week. This week. A full outpouring of public and private sadness. We remember, We talk, We cry. There is no uprising. There is no injustice. Tata Madiba died because he was old and it was the end. He survived a lot in his time, and he was rewarded with a hard but rich life. To live with dignity, to die with dignity- to be remembered.

May we live and die in his footsteps.

Ngaire, wearing MAA t-shirt, writing in public condolence book for Mandela, Cape Town, Sunday Dec 8, 2013.

Ngaire, wearing MAA t-shirt, writing in public condolence book for Mandela, Cape Town, Sunday Dec 8, 2013.

Ngaire Blankenberg is a Principal Consultant at Lord Cultural Resources. She is a Canadian-South African currently based in Barcelona. Toronto-Based Lord Cultural Resources is the world’s largest cultural professional practice. They’ve been working with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights since its early days. Ngaire was involved with the cross- country Public Engagement tour as part of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights content development.

Mobile in Museums- still a way to go

By Ngaire Blankenberg

I don’t think we have cracked museum mobile yet. I think there is a lot of mobile in museums, and there’s lots of cool apps from museums (such as MOMA’s impressionist one which is still an all time favourite for the ipad: http://www.moma.org/explore/mobile/abexnyapp)- but I’m not sure how successful the marriage of mobile with exhibitions is yet. I try and download apps and take mobile tours as much as possible and I have yet to find one I think has worked. Most just are complicated and then take my attention away from the exhibit I’m here to see and ask me to do things that I feel I don’t know how to do or have anything to say about at that moment. I get annoyed at apps which keep insisting I “dig deeper”. Museum exhibitions are already deep- they’re so full of content I’ve rarely been to an exhibition and felt like I’ve read or watched or heard everything. If I wanted to dig deeper than that I wouldn’t be here right now, with my grumbling family, trying to enjoy this exhibition which has the right level of depth for the hour that I have. I want apps that will enhance my experience right here, right now- not take me away from it.

Mobile App from Louvre Lens for a smartphone (http://www.culturemobile.net/louvrelens-orange/louvre-lens-appli-pour-smartphone)

Mobile App from Louvre Lens for a smartphone (http://www.culturemobile.net/louvrelens-orange/louvre-lens-appli-pour-smartphone)

The most successful mobile experience I have actually had was such a basic audio tour at the Cite de la Musique in Paris. When you saw the instruments on display you could activate the sound of the instrument playing. It was simple and beautiful and took my experience at that museum to another level. That’s what I’m talking about.

Most of us museum visitors have smartphones now. V&A’s survey in March showed that 60% of visitors are using their smartphones already to enhance their experience in the galleries. (Read more on this http://www.vam.ac.uk/b/blog/digital-media/museum-visitors-using-mobile). I’d guess probably to take photos and post to others. Or maybe just to tell the time… At any rate- I would say most of how people do use their phones in galleries has little to do with how the museum folk intend for them to use their phones in galleries.

Louvre Mobile App for iPhone

Louvre Mobile App for iPhone (http://macdailynews.com/2009/11/06/louvre_museum_

So here’s my list of what I want from a museum mobile experience (for pleasure not for professional research).
• Free wifi with a good connection (please, please please).
• Something that works at the first try without making me feel like a techno-idiot.
• Some way that I can get the tween/teen slightly interested while showing that I am still in charge and know more than they do.
• Good lighting and staging so the photos I take look deep and interesting- including the selfies.
• Some way of bookmarking content I can use later (OK- that might be my professional self talking…)- especially text. I am desperate to cut and paste exhibition text… or photos and videos.
• What other people also liked and why so I can just go there and not have to struggle through forming my own opinion.
• Something magical-that I never expected I would hear or see and I can share which will also make my friends ooh and aah and be impressed by me and it.

Anyone know where I can find this?

Billboard Tax In Toronto Nets 10 Million A Year For Art

By Andrea Ott

How was it done? Through the efforts of artists in a 12-year campaign to tax billboards for art. I had the opportunity to meet with Devon Ostrom this week. Devon is the co-founder of BeautifulCity.ca – the alliance of over sixty organizations that advocated for the tax on billboards to fund art in excess of 10 million dollars annually. This led to Toronto City Council passing a commitment to allot 17.5 million dollars in additional annual arts spending. The first batch of funding has been recently released by the Toronto Arts Council. Visit www.beautifulcity.ca for the entire story and check out a video at: http://vimeo.com/65066164.

This initiative shows how creative thinking can result in positive impacts in the arts. In fact, Devon is really good at coming up with other community-driven, urban, art-based projects such as also co-founding Arrivals Canada http://www.arrivals.ca and Manifesto Festival – themanifesto.ca. His current project is to develop the Pan Am Path – the project that aims to create a multi-use cycling and pedestrian path with arts hotspots all along the way from Brampton to Pickering in time for the 2015 Pan Am / Parapan Am Games in Toronto. Visit www.PanAmPath.org for details on this project and inspiring video on the concept.

The ‘Living Theatre’ of Landscape

By Ngaire Blankenberg

(What) are the stories of landscapes? It was something I was thinking about during a trip to the fabulous Eden Project close to Cornwall, UK last week.

In the 7-hour bus ride from London (albeit with stops) to the Eden project, the hours passed by with the slowness only truly felt on a long drive in a country that measures distance in miles instead of kilometers. There was plenty of time to look out the window.

This was my first experience of the English countryside- the rolling hills, the sheep, the historic farms, the springtime. It seems incredible I had not seen it before, so vivid were the memories the landscape provoked- of ruddy English children in patched clothing, feeding pigs and milking cows, running in the fields, exclaiming at the poetry of daffodils and reading by candle light.  

It is no surprise that I, a child of New Zealander and South African parents growing up in Canada had the stories of the motherland indelibly imprinted in my memory. England’s enduring legacy in the colonies is found in the images of her stories; her landscapes brought to life in rhymes and fairytales and school texts. 

But what about my traveling companions? Between the American and Taiwanese architects from the New York office of our hosts- Grimshaw Architects -the designers of the Eden Project, and our clients- a group of developers, engineers and property managers from Beijing China- we must have taken hundreds of photos. What did these English sheep and hills mean to each of us?

We passed Stonehenge sitting so innocuously in the field. We all snapped away in awe.  For me, the sight conjured up images of a teenage me, collapsing with my friends into gales of laughter as we watched This is Spinal Tap.  

The Eden Project is about ‘the living theatre of people and plants’ explains founder Tim Smit to us when we finally get there.”We use plant collections as a canvas on which we tell stories of what the future will be like”. In this re-created landscape of 2 indoor biomes (Mediterranean and Tropical) and the real landscape of the outdoor biome, the plants and flowers become alternatively the setting, the protagonist and the plot in a magical story that is as much about the visitor as it is about nature.

Nor is it all giant bugs and wonder- the stories Eden points to are also nuanced socio-political stories.

Throughout, ‘culture’, whether through story-telling, performance, music, exhibition and more- is a major vehicle to create connections between visitors and landscape.

Back in France. On Sunday, we did our customary Easter egg hunt. Every year the Easter Bunny hides chocolate eggs in some place she wants the now much-too-old-for-this children/teens to remember. This year, it was in the St. Germain Forest close to where we live. Among the roots of trees and in the bramble, the children search for bright pink, turquoise and yellow eggs.

We discover bunkers inhabited by Germans in the 2nd World War- covered in moss and leaves.

It’s hard to find a story that will capture all of this- a French spring, a pagan ritual, Jesus’ sacrifice, a Belgian chocolate bestowing bunny, Germans hiding and planning in France divided by war, a forest landscape… and us. But I will. It will be our first-Easter-in-France story- captured in photos and made memorable by the unique smell of this moss, the crunch of these leaves and the particular rustle of the forest.

The Year in Pictures

By Barry Lord

© Dominic Nahr, Untitled from Fracture: South Sudan’s Independence, 2012 (Courtesy O’Born Contemporary)

What is the definition of “having an eye”?  Personally, I believe having an eye is a question of having an understanding for what is happening, in a work of art and in the world.

When I attended a recent exhibition of photographs by Dominique Nahr, a Canadian photographer whom Gail and I had discovered several years ago, I stayed for his slide lecture documenting his experiences as a war photographer in Africa and elsewhere. During his slide show I noticed a powerful photograph that was not in the exhibition. It showed a dead Sudanese soldier fallen in the foreground, before the oil field technology that he was defending. My eye responded to the composition, but my awareness of what is happening in the world told me that this is an image that “tells the whole story” of what is going on in the world and in art at present.

When I mentioned it to the gallery manager, she said that the gallery had thought it was “too strong” for their gallery-going public. Dominique agreed with me that it was his strongest image and said that he had also wanted it to be included in the exhibition. Gail arrived the next day and agreed that it was the image we should acquire, so I asked the gallery to print it for us.

Recently the same image was selected by Time magazine as one of the ten most important photographs of 2012. It’s gratifying to find that other people who are much more intensely involved both in the realities of oil, war and politics, and in the photographic imagery that told the world’s stories in 2012, should have picked this same image.