International Workshop of ERC Research Project METROMOD

In her analysis of the development of Bombay’s modern art scene in the 1930s and 1940s, Karin Zitzewitz draws on gallerist Kekoo Gandhy’s narrative of the significant role played by spaces of sociability, noting that: “Gandhy’s account privileges the salon and the cafe as the key spaces for the casual debates that drove the production of the artistic community."1 The artistic community that Gandhy was referring to included the Progressive artists, many of whom had migrated to Bombay from other parts of India, as well as the local, often western-educated intelligentsia to which he belonged, and exiled European artists escaping Nazi occupation and war.

In this interdisciplinary workshop we intend to investigate links between migration and cultural production in the famously cosmopolitan port city by foregrounding the importance of spaces of sociability as contact zones: spaces that facilitate the exchange of ideas, foster debate and the formation of discourse, and encourage the construction of personal and professional networks across many borders. In addition to cafes and salons, clubs and hotels seem to have also provided opportunities for performance, debate, exhibition and exchange. 

During the workshop we seek to address questions such as: How did cafes, salons and other architectural typologies and urban places encourage intercultural exchange? How did they create spaces of inclusion as well as of hierarchy and exclusion? Were gender, race or sexuality factors? Where were these spaces located within Bombay’s urban fabric and why? Were there differences in the spaces depending on the neighbourhood? Who commissioned, designed, built and operated them? How did minority communities contribute to this? Did temporary or ephemeral spaces, such as festivals, play a role? At what scales did these spaces operate and what type of resonance did they have - within a neighbourhood, throughout the city, regionally, or even internationally? How did their built form or architectural language contribute to their function?

  • 1. Zitzewitz, Karin. The Art of Secularism: The Cultural Politics of Modernist Art in Contemporary India. London: Hurst, 2014. p. 81