Making of the Public

The number of functioning spinning and weaving units touches 138

Wage Workers / Migrant Artisans employed:
Embroidery, and lace and muslin making 1000
Tobacco and snuff manufacturers and sellers 2800
Lime kilns, and brick and tile making 1200
Marble work 800
Leather industry 5500
Sweetmeat makers and sellers 1750
Bakeries 1400
Blacksmiths 1901
Coppersmiths 5000

Census 1901, Vol. 11-11 A, Bombay (Town and Island)

62 dialects, including Marathi, Gujarati, Hindustani and English, are spoken in Bombay
Gazzetter of Bombay City and Island (1901), Vol. 1

1902 Bombay City Police Act is passed to rid the city of beggars, vagrants, famine refugees and street entertainers - urban public is defined in terms of ‘public place’, ‘public order’, ‘public entertainment’, ‘public amusement’ and ‘public peace’.

Bombay / Mumbai is well known for its over-arching popular culture, namely the Hindi film industry. But as a megametropolis of dense multiplicities and simultaneities it also has layers of public cultures – some of them are inscriptions of the migrant lives in the urban centres, some are related to certain social resistance, some are subversive, some are signs of lived-in social behaviours, some are by-products of the city’s hegemonic and commercial ventures, and yet some others are signals of emerging urban expressions. These diverse cultural practices often assemble and accumulate in the format of festivals in public places, mela in many Indian languages. They are different from the western concept of sub-cultures as they are robust in nature and they always take place in the thick of the public places. They are also different from the popular definition of street culture as they are much more negotiated and temporal. More importantly, they are in sharp opposition to the homogenising cultural politics of globalisation and its market outlets. These festivals are as flamboyantly cosmopolitan as they are fiercely local. Despite increasing instances of these platforms being manipulated to serve the cause of territorialism and identity politics, they have an inherent formal capacity to be hybrid and inclusive.

Majlis Culture Centre was interested in the secular potential and popular appeal of these participatory and open access urban format. We presented large scale art projects as public festivals. While doing so we have also explored, developed and energised newer sites for art dissemination in the city. On the other hand, by placing art and its concerns in the public places, we posed a challenge to the elasticity of the art works, both conceptually and materially.