Whose city is it?

The installation brought together people from different backgrounds who might otherwise have never shared a 3×4 metres space before – not just through the physical space but also the hybrid digital room created. The digital interface, being alien to most, seemed to fascinate some while others seemed more apprehensive. But, as soon as someone from the other end of the connection waved or communicated a hug, initial hesitation gave way to fun and amusement. The element of ‘play’ in the installation, further heightened by the absence of sound with only a visual connection, aided the audience in confronting their own reactions, notions and even biases, in some cases.

The installation exposed many prejudices and the inherent inequalities in the city of Delhi. A strong case can be made of people’s reaction to the choice of venue in the city, which was different from a typical art gallery space in that it was based within a community and spilled out onto the street. The urban village, where the installation was located, lies at the confluence of, on one hand – low-income to middle-income residents, a large migrant population comprising students, labourers from rural areas, immigrants from other countries such as Nigeria and Afghanistan – and on the other, the affluent who frequent the high-end mall adjacent to the area. In many ways, this dichotomy is representative of the polarised ends of Indian cities today. Some asked us why we had decided to set up the installation in the village and not a ‘better’ place such as the mall next door. Even a local police officer questioned us on why we had set up the art project in that area. We would like to raise a question of our own – Who has the right to the city?

Swati Janu