The Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany is the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Disneyland that was opened way back in 1955. Sixty-two years later, American artist Jeffery Gillette collaborated with Mumbai-based Samir Parker to create a replica of Mickey’s House or ‘Disneyland’, as it is called by the slum kids in city’s Azad Nagar, south of Mahim station.
Separated by an ocean, both artists are fascinated with slums and its landscape. Gillette has been creating artworks on Dharavi slums for more than three decades; his signature work is an inverted Mickey Mouse to portray that all is not the way it should be. This monsoon, he came back to build a castle for the slum children. “For children, Disneyland is the happiest place on earth. This castle is juxtaposition, the happy place for kids,” says the 55-year-old.
On the other hand, Parker, 41, is the man behind the Roof Tarp City project that involves using of colourful tarpaulins on the roofs of chawls in Mumbai. His artistic practice is shaped by both outrage as well as a sense of longing, and his aesthetic sensibilities are infuriated by the tacky notions of urban beautification.
“Over the last several years, I have sought to engage with these unseen aspects of the cityscape. The idea is not to beautify but to recognise and appreciate the beauty that exists amidst the layers and patchwork of aspiration and reality,” says Parker.
Geometrical paintings project of the duo, who met online in 2016, was their way to draw attention to the living condition of those living in the shanties around Bandra station and add colour to their lives.
A self-proclaimed art-workaholic, who is always thinking, scheming and ‘arting’ apart from working as an art teacher in California, Gillette says, “This project has changed my life as an artist. I have experienced the wealth of the social and community side to artistic endeavours, where the interaction, generosity
and understanding of people are crucial.”
In the current juxtaposition of Disney and slums, the content of the project became much more about the community, and less about the abstract. “Apart from my four paid helpers, I garnered support of the onlookers, who jumped in to help. It became a whole community effort,” he says.
“The metaphor and the structure are immediately accessible yet undoubtedly absurd; its appeal is happily universal,” says Parker.
They painted squares and rectangles in bright hues to add colour to the lifeless walls of slums in the Bandra Reclamation Area in Mumbai this year.
At a party organised for slum kids, they got markers and crayons for 30-50 kids, to help them show their creativity in making colour paper ears.