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SOAK: Mumbai in an Estuary

SOAK: Mumbai in an Estuary

SOAK: Mumbai in an Estuary. June 23 - August 23, 2009, National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai.

MUMBAI, July 15, 2009 - SOAK is an unprecedented way of looking at Mumbai’s terrain and the history of its making. It images the sea and the monsoon not as enemies and agents of flood, but as inevitable partners in the shaping of the ground of settlement. These are identities that Mumbai lives with, wonders at and delights in.

Mumbai is accustomed to being soaked by the monsoon. The rains of July 26, 2005, however, flooded the city. Hundreds died and property wasted as parts of Mumbai went under several feet of water for days on end.

Soak to flood is a profound shift. It makes an enemy of a friend even if it is a friend who is not always welcome. People are now advised to carry hammers to break the windows of their cars in case their automatic systems fail in high water; administrators and engineers work over-time to drain the monsoon off the land as fast as possible. Waiting for the monsoon is increasingly understood as readying for battle.

As much as the events of July 26, 2005 played an important role in the shift to flood, the war against the monsoon has been long coming. SOAK investigates the origins of this war and traces its history through colonial representations. Displays include the tentative if artful drawings of the coastline in early European maps rooted in the belief that a hard line separates land from sea and that view the monsoon as a spoiler of "fair-weather landscape."

SOAK, on the other hand, situates Mumbai in a fluid threshold between land and sea, a shifting saline and fresh water gradient of creeks, and a monsoon surface of holdings. The ground between land and sea is understood to be a filter in section drawings, photo-works and models that present this alternative representation of Mumbai’s terrain. And twelve fresh proposals provoke us to rethink the larger terrain of the Mithi that reaches down from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park to historic forts along what used to be the Mahim creek.

SOAK is an invitation to dialogue with plans for a resilient Mumbai.  It showcases design interventions that holds waters rather than channel it out to sea; that work with the gradient of an estuary. It calls for visualizing the city as a fluid field of rain-soaked surfaces, monsoon holdings and overflows, of public-private negotiations. The exhibition also includes a "collective memory" installation, approximately 72 historic maps and illustrations and 90 new drawings and photographic works done by Mathur and da Cunha.

This project offers a new vocabulary for living with the monsoon and the sea. It endeavors to transform the increasingly shrill language of fear, anxiety, and dread that marks our reception of the rains in Mumbai today. Rather than fighting the monsoon, this exhibition encourages us, once again, to design with and enjoy the soak.

Authors/ Artists: Anuradha Mathur / Dilip da Cunha initiated SOAK as a public exhibition and book aimed at recovering and inventing ways of inhabiting Mumbai as a monsoon and estuarine landscape. They believe that this can only happen on the ground of new visualizations of a rich and varied coast and terrains within Mumbai that demand new readings and by extension fresh design attitudes. Mathur and da Cunha are designers, artists, and educators. They are authors of two major books and exhibitions: Mississippi Floods: Designing a Shifting Landscape (Yale University Press, 2001) and Deccan Traverses: The Making of Bangalore’s Terrain (Rupa & Co., 2006). They are faculty at the School of Design, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Director: Kavita Khanna has been with SOAK since its inception three years ago. As a Mumbaikar she is deeply concerned with the need for innovative design ideas to deal with the city, its problems and potential. Kavita is a barrister of Law from Lincolns Inn, U.K.

Exhibition & Book Design: Trapeze is the multi-disciplinary design consultancy that worked closely with the authors to give the exhibition a striking milieu. They have also designed the print collateral and the accompanying book, and created a web presence for SOAK.

Sound design: Rajivan Ayyappan is a sound artist who has recorded the sounds of the Mithi, and designed a sound installation that will complement the Exhibition.

Exhibition opens:  Tuesday, June 23, 2009. On view till: Sunday, August 23, 2009

Venue: National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Mumbai.

July 2, 2009
by Jeff Tompkins