To document, archive and represent Mumbai’s textile legacy, the Indian megalopolis by the Arabian Sea, home to 20 million people, give or take a few, is all set to get its first textile museum. More than eight years after the initial proposal, the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation), Mumbai's governing civic body, will start with construction in February of this year.
Apart from a museum celebrating the city’s mill legacy, the proposed structure includes a live, functioning mini-textile mill and a representation of the past chawl life - the city's former housing units for the working class, designed to provide cheap accommodation for the stream of migrants coming to the city since the early 1900s, many of them to work in the city's textile mills. In addition, landscaping is planned around a lake inside the compound as well as an amphitheatre and a musical fountain.
The whole complex will be spread over 16.3 acres (61,000 square metres) of land at the defunct United Mill compound in the Kalachowki neighborhood in the city's eastern suburbs, of which 14 acres will be used for construction and the rest for beautification.“My note to the planning committee is to make the museum interactive for the public, accessible which is enjoyed by all the citizens of the city,” said municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta as quoted by Hindustan Times.
Part of the United Mills compound are three ring and spinning structures, a chimney, a semi-automatic loom and a pond, all of which are protected by varying heritage status levels. Restoration work on some of the structures has already begun. “All the heritage structures will be restored to its past glory. I have asked the committee to restore the mills, the water body in the compound,”added Mehta. The BMC has appointed JJ School of Arts, Mumbai's premier art institute established in 1857, to prepare a vision document for the museum and to design its architecture.
The new museum will include fashion galleries that display traditional Indian textiles as well as the life and culture of the mill worker communities over the ages and education about India's and specifically Mumbai's once thriving textile industry.
Rather than catering to a small elite, Mumbai's new textile museum is meant for everyone - the descendants of the former mill workers and the average citizen. “The JJ School of Architecture, along with Fine Arts and Applied Arts, is working to give this museum to the citizens of Mumbai. Most museums tend to be elitist and are frequented only by the rich. We want this museum to be accessible to the public at large,” said Rajiv Mishra, principal of Sir JJ College of Architecture, director at the State Directorate of Art, Maharashtra and member of the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC), according to the Indian Express. Mishra is currently leading a team of 15 experts from the school in planning the project.
New graduate students will get a chance to showcase their art works as the new museum will also have a dedicated exhibition space for them. “The space will be allocated to new graduates, from painters to sculptors, who will be able to rent the space for six months to one year, showcase their art and also sell it. After a year, their place will be taken by new graduates. The space will not be given to boutique stores,” said Mehta. A separate exhibition area is also planned.
Given the heritage structure of the mill site, the project had to clear hurdles when getting the necessary clearances, initially facing non-approval of the plan by the MHCC and lack of funding. However, on 19th December 2017, the BMC held a pre-bid meeting for the first phase of the museum and the begin of construction is slated for February. The musical water fountain, as a technical project, is not included in the current tenders but an expression of interest will be invited during this month itself.
The first cotton mill was set up in Mumbai by The Bombay Spinning and Weaving Company in the Tardeo neighbourhood in 1856. Ten more mills followed until 1865, employing over 6,500 workers. By 1900, the city already boasted 136 mills and was soon known as the “Manchester of the East”, employing hundreds of thousands of workers at its peak. However, the recession of the 1920s did not leave Mumbai's textile mills unaffected and led to stagnation. In 1925, there were only 81 active mills in the city and the number further declined after World War II, leading to permanent closure after the Great Bombay Textile Strike of 1982.
In recent years, some of the mills have been redeveloped; the most popular being Phoenix Mills in Lower Parel, which is now a shopping mall. Under conservation efforts, more are planned to be turned into museums with one successful project completed, which is United Mills in Lalbaug.
Photos: United India Mills No. 1 by Rohidas Gaonkar; abandoned Madhusudhan Mill by Kunal Ghevaria; Phoenix Mills by Rakesh Krishna Kumar; all mills located in Lower Parel, all images via Wikipedia.