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Radical Housing and Socially-Engaged Art

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As a lapsed birder, I have upcycled my keen sense of hearing to navigate the urban jungle that is New Delhi. This skill is highly relevant when I exit the Malviya Nagar Metro station and am hit by a cacophony of noise. I quickly seek out a person, any person, who shouts ‘Mall!’ on loop. I proceed to sit in the overfull auto-rickshaw that he drives and in a span of 10 minutes, am privy to the latest Punjabi pop star and the dissonance of class and ethnicity that is the drive to Khirki Extension and the Khoj International Artists’ Association.

The journey to Khoj, is a crash course on the area I will be based out of for the coming weeks. The journey affords me insights into the range of nationalities, languages, economies and cultures interacting with each other. To the right of me lie planned, spacious and elite residential colonies, hospitals and malls. To my left, lie the crammed, unplanned and largely informal settlements that house the burgeoning migrant population of the city and their economic activities.

The demographic is startling, and if Delhi has any claim to being a global city it lies in these quarters where Indians of various sub-national identity live with people from a range of communities in Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Nepal, the Ivory Coast and several other countries. These communities are reflected in the signage I see as I move closer to Khirki Extension.

A diversity of languages
A diversity of languages

The polarity of the space, in terms of density and access to resources is striking. The open spaces on the left have been converted into large-scale dumping grounds; those to the right have been converted into manicured lawns. These are the spaces I will be moving through for the next few weeks as the writer-in-residence for the ‘Coriolis Effect Project: Migration and Memory’ residency at Khoj. The gist of my role is engaging with seven other residents, who come from a variety of artistic backgrounds and follow their development throughout this residency. This residency is an attempt to diversify the interactions between the two regions through art, and this is significant as the current India – Africa ties seem to focus on economic and political diplomacy and there are vast gaps in the interactions that need to be addressed by people who live in these regions.

Through deep interactions with each other and the space we have all chosen our individual media. Some of us have implemented sonic or visual mechanisms of engagement, and in some cases utilise the barter system and the market economy. It is an interesting mix and this series of blog posts will cover the artists, their ideas and the space within which we work. Your involvement in our work as a larger community of individuals interested in these projects is welcome. Please feel free to visit us, talk to us and share a bit of this time we have together. All you need is access to the Malviya Nagar Metro Station and perhaps a lapsed birder by your side.