Arjun Bahl interview© HelloIndia

Arjun Bahl On The Impact Of Founding The Mumbai Urban Art Fest

HELLO India Logo
Nayare Ali

The Mumbai Urban Art Festival has changed the face of several parts of the city. HELLO! gets candid with the co-founder of St+art India, Arjun Bahl, to dig into the significance of this well-appreciated, colourful event.

St+art India’s ongoing Mumbai Urban Art Festival has not just made art accessible to all Mumbaikars, but has contributed towards restoring a number of historic monuments in the bustling city. For this ambitious project, the foundation handpicked as many as 60 prominent artists from both India and overseas to reimagine and further develop some iconic spots in Mumbai. The end result: a complete visual treat.

Mumbai Urban Art Festival©HelloIndia

Under the aegis of the festival and its organisers, the Maximum City has been well exploited and beautified for all art enthusiasts. The audience can walk around savouring varied experiences, be it outdoor murals, light-based artworks and even experiential exhibitions that will heighten their artistic senses even further. HELLO! discovers more in a chat with Arjun Bahl, Founder of the Mumbai Urban Art Festival.

HELLO!: This three-month-long event is the first of its kind in Mumbai. How did you come up with the concept?

Arjun Bahl: “Since 2014, St+art India has collaborated with a brand of paints to make art accessible to diverse audiences, while contributing to urban regeneration and the cultural landscape at large. We’ve done this in the neighbourhoods of Mahim East, Sassoon Dock and Bandra, as well as iconic sites like Churchgate Station and the Jindal Mansion.

The Mumbai Urban Art Festival engages with the city by contributing to the contemporary public art heritage. Its first edition traverses the idea of a ‘city in flux’, where Mumbai, like water, is porous, regenerating and fluid. A city of contrasts and coexistence where there’s always room for imagination, beauty, darkness and, most of all, complexities. A maximum city, which continues to embody versatility and mobility in its character of being a port city, where every inch of space and engagement is often seemingly transactional.”

Mumbai Urban Art Festival©HelloIndia

H!: What kind of experience can audiences expect from the immersive installations and setups? 

AB: “In the spirit of celebration, reimagination and development, Sassoon Dock has become an art hub open to all. Permanent outdoor murals enrich this hyper characteristic site while leading to the three indoor experiential exhibitions. Large-scale, site-specific installations, new media and light-based works immerse the viewer in reflections between the sea and the city. For the weekends, we planned a host of workshops, talks, art walks, performances, concerts, dance events and kids’ activities. We encourage the public to engage and experience the art, which brings together a wide range of audiences in unexpected spots, thanks to the work of over 60 local and international artists.”

Arjun Bahl©HelloIndia

H!: The goal was to give Mumbai’s landmarks an artistic makeover. Do you have a post-festival maintenance plan in place?

AB: “The aim is to work with important buildings to spread the word of art more effectively. Landmarks have great visibility that allows us access to more public eyes. Many old landmarks in Mumbai are not the most aesthetically pleasing. So we hope our art contributes to uplifting these spaces and the communities that reside within. More than just a makeover, we aim to involve communities and imbibe art in their lives. Yes, we do touch ups on our murals, and our sculptors get painted at regular intervals.”

H!: What happens to all these artworks once the festival ends?

AB: “We’ll remove the installations, but the murals will remain. After our 2017 edition of the Sassoon Dock Art Project, we saw many people visit for years, even after the event ended. We made the conscious decision to make sure to work on the facades of the buildings, to leave it back for the community even after the festival.”

 H!: The foundation has a presence in 20 cities and six art districts. Is there another similar festival in the works? 

AB: “Yes, we are working on a festival in Delhi’s Lodhi Art District, scheduled for the end of March 2023.”

Mumbai Urban Art Festival©HelloIndia

H!: You collaborated with international artists to highlight Mumbai’s diverse stories. Tell us about these artists.

AB: “We invited international artists such as Paola Delfin from Mexico, who is popular for her monochrome style of murals; she paid an ode to the women at the docks, commending their hard work and their role in the community. We also invited Andha Ras from Malaysia, who also pays tribute to these women by portraying a resting lady at the docks, which is a rare sight in reality. Katre from France painted the wall outside our second venue, creating an illusion of depth and perspective. Other international artists included Graphic Surgery from Netherlands, Serge from Ghana, Rero from France, and Senkoe from Mexico, among many more.”

H!: How different is the Mahim art district from the Bandra project?

AB: “We’ve been working for the past six years to create the art district in Mahim East, where there are 20 to 25 murals contributed by artists of nearly a dozen nationalities. These murals appear back to back, so one can check them out on a proper tour.

Mumbai Urban Art Festival©HelloIndia

The Bandra project primarily focuses on two to three individual projects. Like the skatepark at Carter Road that was headed by an artist who goes by Zero and other graffiti artists. It’s more from an urban point of view of revitalising and energising the space, which was turned into a skatepark years ago. The second Bandra project is at Bandstand, done by Martand Khosla, who’s an installation artist as well as an architect. He created two large doors for the temporary work. The third project is by Filthy Luker. It’s essentially an inflatable installation that’s part of a travelling art project. It was last spotted in Bandra on a residential building at Turner Road.”

Artwork Photos: Sohil Belim & Pranav Gohil

This has been adapted for the web from a story originally published in the March 2023 issue of HELLO! India. Get our copy of the latest issue right here!