Design Museum Dharavi celebrates locally made crafts from a pushcart that can roll from one street to another.
Design Museum Dharavi celebrates locally made crafts from a pushcart that can roll from one street to another. © Design Museum Dharavi

The museum hosts exhibits celebrating the pottery, embroidered garments, wooden carvings and other handicrafts manufactured within Dharavi’s three square kilometers. Over two months, co-founders Amanda Pinatih and Jorge Mañes Rubio will roll the nomadic display through Dharavi’s tightly stitched neighborhoods, co-hosting exhibits, workshops, film screenings and lectures with local residents. Their goal is to showcase the design talent in a stigmatized area that the rest of the city mostly sees as a nuisance and developers mostly view as land for future high rises.

“We look at it in a completely different way,” says Rubio. “Dharavi is full of makers, designers, manufacturers and also entrepreneurs. We just can’t figure out how a place like this is still seen as a problem. We see it as part of a solution to issues of informal settlements not just here but all over the world.”

The Amsterdam-based artists devised the pushcart to be able to traverse Dharavi’s narrow lanes and engage members of the local community near their own neighborhoods, workshop spaces and small squares. Pinatih and Rubio were inspired by the thousands of hand-pushed carts that vegetable sellers and market vendors use in Dharavi to roam door-to-door. They developed the idea along with URBZ, an urban research collective based in Dharavi.

On the museum’s opening night February 18, the colorful displays of funky pottery and fan-like brooms on the brightly lit cart drew locals, journalists, design students, researchers and curious Mumbaikars. For those who might only visit this part of Mumbai to get a knockoff pair of designer jeans made in a garment shop, the message was clear: There’s craftsmanship to celebrate in artisan communities that have been honing it for generations. ... The Amsterdam-based artists see Dharavi’s maker community as co-collaborators. And they believe that if the rest of the city and the global community can recognize this creative potential, it could change the discussion on the future of Dharavi and perhaps other informal settlements across the globe.

The museum’s opening exhibit featured the pottery makers, or the Kumbharwadas, a well-established community that migrated from the neighboring state of Gujarat nearly 100 years ago. Like so many of the migrants in Dharavi from all over India, they brought with them traditional design skills that have been their livelihood for generations. Nearly 1,500 potter families still live together in Dharavi, and half of them still practice the craft to this day. Their area houses kilns, pottery wheels and thousands of stacked clay pots, a artistic ecosystem that risks being uprooted as the city mulls plans to redevelop the area.