Artistic Expression in Dharavi

Collages that tackle health issues

Bustling enterprises and small-scale industries boom with spirit in the one of the largest slums in the world, otherwise known as Dharavi, where close to a million Indians reside. Despite challenging living conditions, the resilience of these people is admirable as they live side-by-side, along rubbish filled creeks with limited access to medical care, clean water, or sanitary facilities. Issues of health are tackled with the help of a grant given by the WELLCOME TRUST, awarded to the Society for Nutrition Education and Health Action (SNEHA).

SNEHA was asked to host a series of creative and interactive workshops, empowering locals with information to increase awareness about these issues. The Society has been collaborating with three professional artists who are incorporating the mediums of photography, pottery, and embroidery in their workshops, exploring in order to explore practical ways to highlight individual stories and to publicize their plight to the world.

The goal of these projects is to stimulate dialogue between diverse communities of artists, public health scientists, locals, and policy makers by using the skills of local artists and artisans. Susie Vickery is one of the three established artists and teachers who is contributing her time and efforts towards this project. She says, “These workshops are intended to raise awareness, allowing one to understand the complexity of risk factors and the elements that influence lifestyle decisions as a key to improving public health.” Vickery is passionate about working with artisan groups, and her background in art and experience as a theatrical tailor works to everyone’s advantage.

Vickery is currently working with fifteen women sewers who are working to create stitched collaged self-portraits, focusing on personal health issues through the exploration of embroidery and photography. She wanted the women to not only gain knowledge about these topics but wanted them to have fun and express themselves artistically, as opposed to being purely practical. She encouraged them to look at their lives and create something that reflected personal issues of concern and environment. Vickery says, “They looked at areas of health that they feel they have the power to change and those areas that are seen to be beyond their control.” For example, they took close up photographs of their faces and bodies, and stitched together collages of mixed media, catalyzing dialogue on topics such as menstruation, pregnancy, medicine, and nutrition.

By January 2012, SNEHA aims to create an installation of an “abstracted residential interior” that will be placed within the slums for the locals to see. The idea is to create a domestic interior inside a larger space that will become a three dimensional canvas. They plan on building a typical house where each area would have a theme. This will be open for the public to see. For example, the bed could signify birth, the plate rack would refer to skin, and the cupboards would be a metaphor for medicines. Mounted photographs will document areas of concern such as the mounds of garbage that seem to pile sky high. This exhibition will act as a personal reflection of their concerns, and is one that will generate interest and involvement among the scientific community and locals alike.

If you would like to donate to SNEHA, please visit its website at To learn more about Susie Vickery, please visit



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