There are many stories that make up the grand narrative of a global mega-city like Mumbai, reflecting the myriad of different lives lived by its citizens. Amongst these stories you will find no greater contrast, and no greater inequality, anywhere in the world.

Mumbai is the world’s 12th richest city, and home to its most expensive domestic residence, a 27-storey skyscraper valued at over $1 billion (complete with three helipads and a staff of 600), built by the industrialist Mukesh Ambani. Mumbai is also home to Dharavi, the world’s largest slum, as well as 2,000 other slums in which more than 60 per cent of its population live.

The reality that you see when you live in Mumbai is very much dependent on who you are, what you choose to see, and what you don’t. In its quest to regain its once held status as a global commercial power, the official Mumbai is rich, vibrant and outward facing. Major fashion brands inhabit sleek glass and steel shopping malls and the pervasive architecture of security scanning neatly divides the ‘us’ from the ‘them’.

The Mumbai of the medieval-age plastic processing factories and chemical plants, the early morning newspaper vendors and flower sellers and fishermen, is much less visible, unless you go looking for it. It’s the small, quiet stories to be found in this Mumbai, in which you will find the city’s heart and soul, the small, carefully swept lilac and pink courtyard with doors festooned with flowers and small, smiling children packed like sardines into brightly coloured classrooms that remain imprinted on my mind.

My favourite discovery during a recent trip is a very small book entitled Ladies only: stories for all, the result of a series of interviews and photography workshops with a group of women in Dharavi Slum. The project’s founders run Art Room, an art space that seeks to empower women and children from marginalised communities by “exploring, expressing and exchanging ideas through art”, “enabling the community to take control over their lives”.

 

 

The introduction of the book recognises that “in the pulsating centre of the country’s financial capital lives a population who are denied an opportunity to speak out and be heard.” The project acknowledges that documenting life in the slum is an impossible task without the women of the community telling their stories.

“The easiest way to erase women’s contributions is to simply ignore that they happened, and because it is ignored it is forgotten. Women who are not inventors and intellectuals, women who really spend all their lives doing stereotypical “women’s work” also built this world.”

“Ladies only: stories for all” is an attempt to deconstruct the male gaze as well as the racist, casteist, classist realities the images taken in Dharavi seem to portray.”

The photography project created an intimate space for the women to express themselves and this unassuming, easily overlooked book documents their experiences.

Arundhati Roy once wrote, “there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

Projects like this give voice to and empower the unheard.

“Now if they point their camera to me I will point my camera to them.”

 

 

This year in 2018, our Museum will launch the In Visible Ink project, a creative initiative designed to give voice to stories of racial and religious discrimination and inequality, by making them visible and harnessing the way they are told to create impact and meaningful social change.

We hope to discover the unseen, to curate invisible stories, bring them to life and make them matter.

Over the course of our project we will hear from storytellers, artists and educators around the world and close to home, who have grappled with the process of sharing hidden truths to inspire compassion and change.

We will highlight the stories of Australia’s First Peoples: authors, artists and commentators working across communities and media, and consider these stories in the context of truth telling as a necessary prerequisite to reconciliation.

We will engage in conversation about how difficult stories are told, how we can make room for these diverse narratives in our collective and cultural memory and harness their power to address and dismantle the discrimination in which they remain shrouded.

 

“Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize.

Stories can break the dignity of a people.

But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

 

For more information about Dharavi Art Room, visit: artroom.strikingly.com