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Field Update from Alex White-Mazzarella in Mumbai

November 26, 2010

Dear Friends

Greetings from Mumbai/Bombay!

This marks the end of Week 3 in Dharavi; a time to pause and reflect on what we have accomplished since arriving in this land of contradictions. We are happy to report that this project has validity! Being here is definitely educational for us and surely for you as well. Furthermore the community is also benefiting from the project.  Our prep work served us well and we have managed to wedge our way right into the heart of this community. Though we draw a steady stream of stares wherever we go, many people have come to embrace our daily presence and are eager to help us learn about what makes this place tick.

Sails Are Set

1 We have set up a production workshop in Dharavi where we spend late nights working and scheming community art projects that we hope will make the local people feel good about this place, but knowing full well that we may just come off as The Crazy Guys from America. Everything we do is so out of touch with the daily realities of people here that we always draw a crowd and curious looks. Alex has also started teaching art classes once a week in our workshop. You can see some photos and a blog entry on the art classes on our website.

2 Arne made it from Holland! Our 3rd team member, Arne de Knegt, arrived last week from Amsterdam. He is joining us a both a photographer and what I’m calling our Large Scale Logistics Machine. Arne’s photography is beautiful and adds a wonderful, human element to the production. He also spends his working days traveling the globe and building stages for bands like U2 and the Rolling Stones. In other words, large projects are his forte. To test him we unveiled a secret project to a Mumbai newspaper during our first week here – the rooftop mural. You can read about it here if you want: MUMBAI MIRROR LINK. Now that the cat is out of the bag, Arne has his hands full finding a way to make the rooftop mural a reality in the ten weeks remaining. Arne has also come with four digital cameras that he will lend out to children during an upcoming photography workshop.

Digging & Excavating

Alex and Arne are expressing and exploring Dharavi and its’ “material nature” by getting into the consumer waste that finds its’ way to Dharavi. I have been documenting our experiences and recording our thoughts as we progress deeper into this multifaceted puzzle.

We are burrowing our way past the industrious surface of Dharavi and into the complexity of the recycling communities. This means investigating over 12 types of plastics… and the course of different hands, machines and geographies that they travel to and from.  After all, in the end, these materials provide sustenance and life to Dharavi’s recycling communities, and these workers are the means in which the city is cleaned.


We are giving an autopsy to these material’s complex lives (origins, function, destinations) and their handlers (the gatherers, sorters, cleaners, grinders, and processors) to get to the root of the role and nature of the recycling community in which we are immersed. Arne and Alex are cataloging and diagramming this labyrinth of materials.

Alex is creating artwork from the very materials the community mines in an artistic mission to transcend plastics into the realities of Dharavi and Mumbai. For a glimpse of production thus far see

Verdict Is Still Out

We are only 3 weeks into a 13-week investigation. Obviously many questions remain. In fact, more questions are being added to the list instead of being answered. A reporter recent asked us how we think Artefacting Mumbai is benefiting the community in the short term and the long term. She also asked us how the project adds to the conversation about the ways we see (or don’t see) poverty and those deemed poor. For answers you’ll have to read her article when it gets published (don’t worry, we’ll be sure to post it). It is clear that this community has a lot to offer in terms of learning about social wealth and, it turns out more that we imagined about recycling too. But getting to the bottom of these topics is far from simple. So we plug away each day, learning, processing, and sharing.


An amazing aspect to this project is the extent of the organic growth of what we are doing here. Since being here and learning about the on-the-ground realities and possibilities, and seeing the level of support we have gained from the community and volunteers, a myriad of mini (and not so mini) projects have blossomed to help us realize our mission of connecting with this place and sparking discussion about Dharavi. Aside from the rooftop mural, we now have planned a street exhibition in Mumbai, a multi-media exhibition/festival in Dharavi, a public awareness campaign about obtaining government ID cards for slum dwellers, and building a “house” in Dharavi out of recyclables as a way to raise awareness about materials usage here. It feels like the sky is the limit and that whatever we decide to do is within reach – both a refreshing and scary reality that keeps us working in the studio late.

Reality TV For Your Soul

You can follow along as we dig deeper and deeper into Dharavi each week. Blog updates, photos and videos are now being posted on our website regularly: www.artefactingcom.

All the best from Mumbai,

Casey & Alex

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