World's first slum museum: Dharavi, home of 'Slumdog Millionaire', showcases $1bn craft industry

slumdog design museum india orig_00004202
slumdog design museum india orig_00004202

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Museum opens in one of world's largest slums 01:27

Story highlights

  • World's first slum museum opens in Dharavi, one of Asia's largest informal settlements
  • Museum-on-wheels showcases local crafts and artisans
  • Project hopes to inspire local crafts people to promote their products

Mumbai (CNN)The lanes of Dharavi are long and winding. Spread over roughly 500 acres in the heart of Mumbai, they connect the shanties of this informal settlement, home to about one million people.

But Dharavi is much more than one of Asia's largest slums. It is a hive of small-scale industries.
    From leather shops and textile mills to bakeries and paper recycling plants, Dharavi's small enterprises have an estimated collective annual turnover of more than $1 billion, according to a Harvard University study.
    The innovation within this urban sprawl has inspired a nomadic museum: Design Museum Dharavi will travel through the area with different exhibits for two months.
    Jorge Mañes Rubio and Amanda Pinatih at Design Museum Dharavi in Mumbai
    "We want people to look at Dharavi's makers from a different perspective; usually people think of workers here as cheap manual labor," says co-founder Jorge Mañes Rubio. "Now they're talking about Dharavi in the context of design and creativity."
    Amsterdam-based Rubio and his partner, Amanda Pinatih conceived the idea four years ago, after traveling on a research project to Dharavi -- the slum that found international fame after Danny Boyle made it the setting for his 2008 hit "Slumdog Millionaire".
    The museum kicked off last month with a focus on pottery -- such as tea, or chai, cups and saucers, terracotta water filters, brooms and fans.
    "The artists here make an object -- for example the leather makers make a beautiful bag -- but then they put on a label from a Western brand," Rubio says.
    "We think that's not necessary and we wonder if they can create their own identity and make an object that is showing that identity."
    A pottery class at Design Museum Dharavi in Mumbai
    The museum will next focus on cricket. A local carpenter has already started work on different bat designs.
    For that, the museum will move from its current base in a modest square of Dharavi to a field within the complex, so people can play the popular game alongside the exhibits.
    When the museum closes, the duo will showcase Dharavi's design potential in Amsterdam.
    They hope the project can be used as a model for social exchange.
    "It's really a museum for and by the people of Dharavi," says Pinatih.
    It's a sentiment that's been welcomed by the local artists.

    Preservation of skills

    Nathalal N Chauhan's family has been in the pottery business for generations. His son is also a potter, but he fears his trade will end there.
    Dusk descends over Dharavi, Asia's biggest slum, in Mumbai, India.
    "This museum is keeping our skills alive," Chauhan says. "It's promoting them so that pottery can carry on for one or two generations more."
    For Chauhan and hundreds of other residents, the city of Mumbai, India's financial capital, offers endless economic opportunities.
    But it is the informal city of Dharavi that offers them a home, and now with the Dharavi Design Museum, there is a chance to showcase their art to the world.
    "There are so many rich people in Bombay. They showcase skilled labor sometimes in big malls. But Amanda and Jorge came all the way from Amsterdam to show our craft right here in Dharavi," said a beaming Chauhan. "And so very nicely."