Meena Bazaar 2017

Urdu Park: Axial Margins
Permanent Exhibition

Meena Bazaar is a collaborative work by nine artists (Bina, Parveen, Rabina, Reshma, Ritu, Sabina, Sabrun, Shehzadi, Sunita) – homeless women living with their children in a government-run night shelter in a densely populated, historic part of Old Delhi, between the Lal Qila (Red Fort) and the Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque), two great Mughal monuments.

The work depicts a vibrant local market, in existence since Mughal times, its many shops at the foot of the mosque today selling everything from chai and lassi and biryani and kebabs and vegetables and spices to wedding clothes and perfumes, bicycles, sunglasses, toys, cheap mobile phones, clothes and shoes, bangles, henna, head massages… Meena Bazaar and the surrounding labyrinth of narrow lanes, busy from dawn to midnight, constitute the world of these artists. Several were born on the pavements here, grew up here, and rarely venture outside the area. They survive on the kindness of eatery and stall owners and on aims from mosque-goers.

Municipal authorities have repeatedly tried to demolish Meena Bazaar on the pretext of the city’s ‘beautification’ and ‘development’, repurposing it as a parking lot. The market has become a shadow of its former self, and the shelter is constantly threatened, with grim consequences for already precarious lives.

Sreejata Roy, one of India’s foremost socially engaged artists, first tentatively entered the Urdu Park shelter in 2014. It took her some time and effort to earn the residents’ trust. She understood that every woman there had a traumatic personal history, including domestic violence, abuse, poverty, exploitation, and dislocation. Roy was insistent she wasn’t going to ‘bring art’ to this community, nor impose an aesthetic vision, nor change anything that they were already doing: she was simply going to give them art material and encourage them to imagine freely, to ‘discover and enjoy new experiences.’

Urdu Park: Axial Margins is an ongoing community arts project by Revue (Sreejata Roy & Mrityunjay Chatterjee)