The strengths of the Dharavi Biennale and the Alley Galli Biennale lay in the kinds of themes it addressed, the involvement of the people of Dharavi, and the artworks that were made. One way of looking at the outcomes is in terms of numbers: of participants, places, purposes, and processes. This report summarises data on the numbers of people - participants, mentor artists, social scientists, health experts, artisans, and viewers - who participated in a festival that was the first of its kind. The report reviews themes, materials, people, artworks, footfalls, and media coverage.


The Dharavi Biennale had four principal themes: art, health, recycling, and community. These themes were reflected in the four-panelled logo design and each Artbox incorporated at least two. Public and personal health issues raised by local participants were the core ideas around which installations, paintings, and events were developed.

3 galleries and 19 artworks

Each of 23 Artboxes over two years led to the creation of an artwork. Most of the artworks were exhibited at the Alley Galli Biennale, which was held simultaneously at three galleries: Colour Box, Shama Building, and Jeevon Hall.

Artboxes that produced murals were obviously site-specific, and Artboxes that produced films or theatre were showcased at screenings and performances. Three performance-based Artboxes that were showcased during the Alley Galli Biennale were the premiere of our film Indefensible Space, street performances of the Ishara puppet play about resistant tuberculosis, and three performances of Ishquiya Dharavi Ishtyle, a musical about, by, and for adolescents.

41 mentor artists, 450 participant artists, 14 health specialists

Structured in the form of workshops that would bring together Dharavi artists, mentor artists, and health scientists, the Dharavi Biennale was a platform for collaborations. Each Artbox included four sets of people in the process: the mentor artist(s), the participant artists, a health expert or social scientist, and the public audience. Depending on the health theme, the materials, and the scale of the artwork, the number of participants was suggested by the mentor artist and the SNEHA team (thank you, Bhaskar and Sitaram) put the word out in Dharavi. In some Artboxes, such as the Dharavi Food Project or the Kiln (in Everything is Here), specific demographics were looked for. In some instances the health topic was suggested by the participants, and in others conversations led to ideas for topics, following which experts were invited. The collaboration that emerged in each Artbox was a bridge between what are conventionally seen as binaries: emerging artists and established ones, people from Dharavi and people from outside, art and science.


Public and personal health issues identified by local residents were the core ideas around which installations, paintings, and events were developed. The theme of recycling was embodied in the materials used to make the artworks, as a way of highlighting Dharavi's recycling industry. It also acknowledged the many people who work in recycling units to process the city’s garbage and provide an invaluable environmental service, with compromises to their own high health and with substantial social costs. For example, the Immunity Wall used extruded plastic from the recycling units in Sanaullah Compound to comment on the manner in which the human immune system replenishes itself and guards against invading microbes. In some cases the idea of recycling was not limited to the materials, but was a metaphor for community health and the ways in which harmful behaviours are recycled. A cycle of domestic violence (Mapping the Hurt), breaking the pattern of alcohol use (Say No), or rethinking the ways in which toilet access can be made more gender-sensitive (Indefensible Space), were results of imbibing recycling as a health theme. In the course of the discussions, other aspects aligned to personal and public health came up: infrastructure, urban development, socio-economic and cultural factors.

17 events, Many places

Since it began in February 2013, the Dharavi Biennale has reached out widely in Dharavi, by mobilizing participants, gathering resources, setting up exhibitions and events, or just surveying an area to understand it better. The first three Artboxes were conducted in SNEHA offices: a community centre in Shama Building, the AAHAR centre on 90 Feet Road, and the Urban Health Centre on 60 Feet Road. However, a growing demand for space for activities, participants, and display and storage of artworks meant that the Dharavi Biennale needed its own home. The Colour Box was rented in November 2013 and refurbished under the eyes of the owners, Kumbharwada ceramicists.

For each Artbox, participants were mobilized from different parts of Dharavi with the aid of SNEHA’s community officers. These tireless activists communicated with contacts and residents to engage people with specific skill sets, an eagerness to learn, and an interest in health issues. Areas covered in participant mobilization included Kumbharwada, Shiv Shakti Nagar, Kala Killa, Naik Nagar, Matunga Labour Camp, Kunchi Kurve Nagar, Anna Nagar, AKG Nagar, Mukund Nagar, New Kamala Nagar, Social Nagar, and Lakshmi Baug.

In line with the objective of public engagement, ancillary programs were planned to gain public attention and build momentum towards the grand finale of the art festival. Events over the course of the Dharavi Biennale included a fashion parade for Provoke/Protect, pasting of posters all over Dharavi for Comics Epidemic, pasting of Signs of Health, an inaugural exhibition and performance for the Colour Box, a reunion event and performance for participants, a performance of Notes on Chai by Jyoti Dogra, and an urban film evening. Events during the Alley Galli Biennale included an inaugural rooftop dinner with performances, a cooking workshop for the Dharavi Food Project, a workshop on Growing Fresh Air, a panel discussion after the screening of Indefensible Space, a workshop on up cycling for Transmateriomutator, gala performances of the Vagina Monologues and Bombay 17, collaborative wall painting for Bonded not BoundIshara puppet street plays, and Dharavi's first ever open-air concert. A full list of events at the Alley Galli Biennale is here.

Key to the success of the Biennale is the variety of products manufactured and recycled in Dharavi. In the summer of 2013, the team made a series of visits to recycling units and workshops to understand the wealth of resources available. Potters in Kumbharwada, leather products manufacturers and zari workers in Mukund Nagar, dyers and blockprinters in AKG Nagar, plastic recycling units in Sanaullah Compound, old wooden door sellers on the Sion-Mahim Link Road, and glass recycling units in Prem Nagar are just some of the places that were found to be rich in potential art materials. In the same spirit, stationery and art equipment was purchased in Dharavi as often as possible.

Over the two years of activities leading up to and including the Alley Galli Biennale, events were held in a range of localities to make local residents' work public for communities to appreciate. This also helped to engage more local residents from the community in subsequent Artboxes. At the Alley Galli Biennale, events were programmed in such a way that residents of different areas could take part. The Alley Galli Biennale was stationed at three sites, with the Colour Box as the primary venue. The two other sites were Shama Building on 90 Feet Road and Jeevon Hall, closer to Mahim Phatak. With the help of a map, visitors were asked to take to the streets of Dharavi to access the three exhibition venues, thus getting a glimpse of Dharavi’s businesses and activities. The events at the Alley Galli Biennale were also spread across Dharavi, with some repeat shows for different areas.


Artworks at the three main galleries. Click to enlarge


Health topics. Click to enlarge


Mentors and health experts. Click to enlarge


Recycled materials. Click to enlarge


Locations of events. Click to enlarge


A major success of the exhibition was the number of local residents and visitors who visited all the venues. The Alley Galli Biennale elicited an enormous response from the community. The artworks appealed to people's sensibilities, their themes resonated with local health issues, and the quality of the presentation made the exhibition a big thing for Dharavi. Ancillary events around the exhibition were also popular, with a total of 3340 people attending.

Attendance at events


Coverage was overwhelming and could be attributed at least partly to the distinctiveness of the project. The media found the combination of the location, the strong story, and the visual nature of the material attractive. Many SNEHA volunteers helped to guide visitors through and between galleries and artists were always on hand to discuss their works and the thinking behind them.