India’s art scene has been gaining momentum over the years and some of the most exciting galleries and museums can be found in Mumbai. From a new institution dedicated to Bollywood movies and modern galleries to the oldest museums in the city, Mumbai is filled with fantastic art galleries waiting to be explored.
1. Check out cutting-edge exhibitions in an old metal printing press building
Housed in a century-old printing press in Colaba’s northeast, Project 88 was renovated into an art space by renowned architect Rahul Mehrotra in 2006. This 372m2 gallery focuses on showcasing avant-garde work by bold, young artists such as the Raqs Media Collective or the internationally acclaimed Otolith Group. A case in point was “Blurred Lines”, an exhibition it hosted in 2019 by Australian artist Maggie Baxter, who collaborated with block printers and embroiderers from the Indian region of Kutch to create textile artworks that address ideas of dissonance, arbitrariness and perfection. This month, you can look forward to a solo exhibition by Mahesh Baliga who is known for depicting the absurdity in everyday life through his paintings and sculptures.
2. Visit the oldest Museum in Mumbai
First opening to the public on its current site in 1872,Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum is the oldest museum in the city and resides in the neighbourhood of Byculla. In the early 2000s, its Victorian structure underwent a five-year restoration, winning a Unesco Award of Excellence for its efforts in cultural conservation. Housing over 15,000 objects within a 1,300m2 space, the museum’s highlights include the popular decorative and fine arts collection, which includes maps, clay models, silver objects and a magnificent statue of an elephant. The museum also collaborates with distinguished Indian artists such as Sudarshan Shetty, Jitish Kallat and Thukral and Tagra as part of its “Engaging Traditions” programme where it invites artists to respond to the musuem’s existing collections. A little-known fact is that under the museum’s foundation stone lies a time capsule containing copies of Mumbai newspapers published in November 1862, coins that were in use back then and documents signed by the founders of the museum.
3. Learn about the journey of Indian cinema
The Indian film industry produces more than 1,500 movies a year, more than any other country. So, it was fitting that the National Museum of Indian Cinema (NMIC) opened in Mumbai – the home of Bollywood – in January 2019. The museum is housed in two buildings off Peddar Road, a trendy thoroughfare lined with upscale fashion boutiques. The Gulshan Mahal, a heritage bungalow, has eight exhibit halls celebrating Indian cinema through the ages, from silent films to the time of the Partition and even New Wave cinema. The hand-painted movie posters and black-and-white film reels here evoke a strong sense of nostalgia. Adjacent to the main building, a newly built glass annexe known as the New Museum Building has a “Gandhi & Cinema” exhibit, an interactive Children’s Film Studio as well as an entire floor dedicated to film technology featuring cameras, lenses and lighting apparatus.
4. Explore contemporary Indian art in the historic Fort area
Founded in 1963 by couple Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy, known as pioneers in raising the visibility of contemporary Indian art, it was rebranded as Chemould Prescott Road in 2007 after their daughter Shireen took over and moved the organisation to a 465m2 loft space in the historic Fort area flush with architecture from the colonial era. It specialises in displaying the big names in contemporary Indian art such as MF Husain, SH Raza and Nalini Malani, however, Shireen is keen to make art more accessible to everyone. In 2019, she curated the groundbreaking exhibition “Modus Operandi”, which put the art of 25 of India’s top contemporary artists up for sale at affordable prices for young and inexperienced collectors. More recently, they have featured work from NS Harsha, an artist from Mysore whose paintings, floor works and installations depict life in a small town. Harsha marries brush techniques from ancient Indian miniature schools with a Pop Art aesthetic to create art that is complex and colourful.
5. Get a glimpse of Indian history from this underground shelter
Set among woodland and surrounded by the crashing Arabian Sea on three sides, Mumbai’s Governor’s House, also known as Raj Bhavan, is a true architectural gem. In 2016, then-governor C Vidyasagar Rao discovered an underground British-era bunker during an evening walk through the vast grounds. The massive 1,395m2 space has since been restored and was inaugurated as the Bunker Museum in August 2019. Visit and see models of cannons and soldiers, experience virtual reality booths and listen to historical anecdotes about India’s struggle for freedom. For photo opportunities, there’s also a section that creates the optical illusion of a bunker of infinite length.
6. Discover Indian talent in a modern setting
Chatterjee & Lal was founded in 2003 by husband-and-wife duo Mortimer Chatterjee and Tara Lal. This tiny one-room gallery in Colaba first made headlines when it showcased Nikhil Chopra, a performance artist, in 2007, where he remained confined to a room in the gallery building for three days and nights and, taking on the role of a character, made a drawing of the iconic Mumbai view seen from the rooftop of Kamal Mansion. They’re known for discovering exciting Indian talent such as Gagan Singh (known for his cartoons on human sexuality) and Minam Apang (who creates charcoal and ink paintings about Northeast India) and also hosting retrospectives of esteemed late artists such as Amrita Sher-Gil and Nasreen Mohamedi. This month, they will be hosting the work of Riten Mozumdar, previously the head designer of Indian lifestyle brand Fabindia, in a show that focuses on prized Indian textiles and clothing.
7. Make time for one of India’s finest art and history museums
With a world-class collection of over 50,000 artefacts and paintings and even two digital collections, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) is considered one of India’s finest art and history museums. It was designed by George Wittet in 1909 in the Indo-Saracenic style, which melds traditional Indian architecture with the Western Gothic aesthetic. Worth a special mention is their Children’s Museum, which launched in March 2019 and was curated by 25 kids between the ages of eight and 15. The child-friendly exhibits cover themes such as courage, teamwork and friendship. The 555m2 glass enclosure sits among mango, palm and baobab trees and will host storytelling sessions, poetry clubs and even performances at an adjoining amphitheatre.
8. Swing by this contemporary art gallery at Dhanraj Mahal
A new entrant to Mumbai’s art scene, TARQ was conceptualised as an art laboratory inside Dhanraj Mahal – one of the city’s most iconic Art Deco buildings. Founder Hena Kapadia nurtures young, experimental artists such as Nibha Sikander, Ronny Sen and Apnavi Makanji whose works push the boundaries of how contemporary art is perceived in India. This month, there’s a solo exhibition by Vishwa Shroff, who represents architectural forms through pensive pen and pencil drawings. Make sure to also check out their superb programming that includes film screenings, theatre performances, live music gigs and, recently, a zine-making workshop with local design house Bombay Duck Designs.
Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours as well as booking requirements before visiting, and remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about.
The information is accurate as of press time. For the latest travel advisory updates, please refer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.
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This article was originally published in January 2020