Radical housing and socially-engaged art:

Reflections from a tenement town in Delhi’s extensive urbanisation

Nitin Bathla and Sumedha Garg

Published in Issue 2.2 // The Long Read

Keywords: Socially engaged art, Radical housing, Creative methodologies, Tenement housing, Delhi

Abstract:

The relegation of workers’ housing to grey spaces or planned illegalities has ensured the availability of a permanently temporary migrant workforce to fuel the extensive urbanisation shaping around cities like Delhi. These grey spaces emerge as tenement towns in place of former agrarian villages, run and developed by agricultural landowners turned tenement entrepreneurs that exploit labour migrants as permanently temporary tenants. The challenges posed by the invisibilisation of such relations manifested sharply under the COVID-19 pandemic. A radical feminist politics has been emerging at the interstices as a counter against such violent dispossession employing creative narratives and ways of protest. This paper discusses the need for approaches that transcend research-activism boundaries while engaging with particularly marginalised communities. It discusses the potentials presented by socially engaged art in empowering radical politics through reflections from a long-term art-based inquiry conducted with women migrants in Kapashera, a tenement town located around Delhi.

Nitin Bathla is an architect, and researcher currently pursuing Doctoral Studies at ETH Zurich. His work focuses on the intersections of urbanisation and commodification of everyday life, especially through the questions of labour, ecology, and infrastructure. He researches in India and Europe and is currently working towards his PhD entitled ‘Delhi without borders’. Nitin regularly collaborates with film-makers, artist, and civil society organisations in order to bridge the research-activism divide.

Sumedha Garg is an artist, designer and educator. She has worked in communities across India and South Africa; on community healing and eco reparation through art, storytelling, and integrated learning models. Her work lies at the intersection of narrative design, integral education and sacred ecology. Through her practice as an artist and educator, she is exploring the relationships between community, place making and traditional knowledge systems.

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