Urban Narrative in Delhi, India: Art Explorations and Urban Ethnography

Memo #345

By: Claudia Roselli – roselliclaudia [at] gmail.com

Claudia Roselli Author PhotoThe city today embodies a place where fears, hopes, dreams and transformations swirl together, creating new landscapes. Our urban future can be marvellous or frightening, but contemporary researchers, such as sociologists, urban planners, architects and ethnographers can have an important role in shaping the forms of urban and peri-urban evolutions and on intercepting the future cultural directions. Together with such disciplines, art, in particular visual art, can narrate new urban transformations, but also create space within which to analyze emergent issues and memorialize disappearing physical or cultural sites.

Putting this theory into practice, the video memo features a performance piece, Sacred Bodies, sponsored by the Unbox Festival, and filmed in Shahjahanabad, India. Otherwise known as Old Delhi, Shahjahanabad is the historic neighbourhood in the city of Delhi, the capital of India and its second most populous city. It was one of Delhi’s seven original villages and takes its name from Shah Jhan, who built the fortified town on the bank of the Yamuna River. This part of the city has remained one of the most vibrant while retaining its history, surviving countless urban transformations, demolitions and reconstructions.

Through the use of new media, the video explores the spatial, the conceptual, and the lived dimensions of Old Delhi, the walled city. More specifically, the walk of the performers starts from the site of an ancient entrance door in the fortified citadel of Shahjahanabad and ends at the grand mosque Jama Masjid. Along the way, they discover courtyards of beautiful havelis (characteristic private mansions in ancient Indian architectural style present in that part of the city) and the strong and evolving identities, practices, and lives of the neighbourhood. Sacred Bodies thus investigates heritage and memory, cultural sustainability, revitalization of urban areas through artistic practices, creativity and innovation, to discover new landscapes in the spaces of ancient architecture and the atmospheres of everyday life.

Claudia Roselli is a researcher and artist who has lived and travelled to India throughout the past decade. She received her PhD (2012) from the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi and the University of Florence, where she currently works as a scientific co-worker.

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Sacred Bodies by Claudia Roselli from Planum. The Journal of Urbanism on Vimeo.

The Jaama Masjid (Credit: Claudia Roselli, 2011).


Claudia Roselli a
Sculpture: Horses in Shahjahanabad (Credit: Claudia Roselli, 2011).


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