Five Ideas

Five Ideas for Public Space: Rumi Samadhan

Rumi Samadhan

Rumi Samadhan

This summer, GOOD and the BMW Guggenheim Lab launched a worldwide, online call for ideas, inviting the public to respond to the question, “How would you transform a public space?” Curator Maria Nicanor recently selected five top ideas from the one hundred twenty submissions. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be presenting profiles of the people whose ideas were selected. Follow along here on Lab | Log as they discuss their innovative projects.

Most urban slums exist on a city’s periphery; the Mumbai neighborhood of Dharavi is unusual in that it sits smack in the city center between two rail lines, on top of what might one day be very valuable real estate. For now, it is home to approximately a million people who hail from all over South Asia. Packed into apartments that often lack basic services such as water and electricity, Dharavi’s denizens live along narrow alleyways—some only three feet in width. This spatial reality of the slum is at the root of Mumbai-based artist Rumi Samadhan’s proposal for the City Forward call for ideas. Her project calls for some of the neighborhood’s alleys and streets to be lined with tiles, each showing the letters of the alphabets of various local languages as well as English. In addition, she proposes hanging whiteboards on the sides of buildings where children can use them to draw or write. Through these measures, she hopes to provide the children of Dharavi with an environment both educational and aesthetic.

Samadhan, who has worked in advertising and as an art teacher for children, argues that her proposal is intended to add to children’s pedagogical experiences, rather than replacing formal education. She firmly believes that children more readily absorb information that is part of their environment, and sometimes rebel against what she calls the “restricted atmosphere” of a classroom. Samadhan, who is also a fine artist who had her first solo show last year in Mumbai, feels that the graphics for the project must be bold and colorful. “Communication and the simplicity of the message is very important,” she says.

One of Samadhan’s renderings of the project shows an older child teaching a younger one the alphabet. This is a reasonable guess at how the tiles would be used, as a number of scholars—most notably Sugata Mitra—have shown that children frequently learn skills from their peers in informal settings. Samadhan points out that children in Dharavi have no official playgrounds or parks, so it’s the street that becomes their venue for play, and, she hopes, for education. “These are the by-lanes used by residents [so the] repeat value of the message is tremendous here,” she says. If Samadhan has her way, these narrow passages could some day become the setting for moments of beauty and learning.

Education on the Go

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Images: courtesy Rumi Samadhan