Art Deco in Aamchi Mumbai, by Anaika Ajay

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When we think of Art Deco we usually picture Paris circa 1920, suited businessmen riding fancy town cars, and well, The World War (oh and The Great Gatsby,) but let’s focus on the architecture for the purpose of this blog shall we?Mumbai has the second largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world, after Miami, and the buildings were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in June this year.And yet, they go unnoticed in the bustling financial hub.

One can’t speak of Art Deco without mentioning its more flowery predecessor; Art Nouveau. Are you envisioning those beautifully detailed Italian Tarot cards, so am I.The art style that was mostly found in architecture and the decorative arts in Europe and America. Curved lines and floral motifs were most prominent characteristics that helped distinguish it from other art forms.Although it was an accommodating style, allowing artists across all mediums to incorporate the style in their works, its popularity only lasted a brief 20 years.Enter: Art Deco Art Nouveau’s mod sister, Art Décoratifs was the visual representation of everything luxurious and modern. While Art Nouveau was flowy and asymmetrical, Art Deco was geometric and symmetrical. It drew inspiration from different parts of Asia and Africa, inculcating ancient artifacts. Its style was classified as Futurism and abstract.

So, how did Art Deco come to Mumbai?

With an existing British influence through Victorian Gothic architecture (buildings with this style are also on UNESCO’s list,) Mumbai’s buildings were already strongly influenced by the west. Indo-Saracenic architecture used domes and minarets and held onto Islamic and Hindu roots right before the Art Deco era which saw a mélange of the two styles, known as Deco-Saracenic which gave an Indian spin to a western style. It was around the 30’s that Mumbai quite literally invited Art Deco into their homes. As Mumbai grew financially and socially there was a grave need to suit the exuberance and flamboyance of the rich. Local businessmen flourished, while people who went to study abroad brought back the ways of the west. Wealthy film industry folk and royalty alike all took to the style as a way to flaunt their wealth. The ‘Ideal Home Exhibition’ held in Bombay by the Indian Institute of Architects introduced Art Deco to Indian architects and interior designers who took this as an opportunity to emulate the west, from cinemas to banks, lamp shades to balcony grills, everything had a hint of Art Deco.

The addition of these iconic buildings to the World Heritage List allows us to continue silently appreciating these mod buildings as we drive past them. In fact, I’m sure if you look around your home, you’ll find something that has that Art Deco look to it. -Article, ‘Mumbai’s Victorian Gothic, Art Deco buildings win UNESCO status’ -‘Origins of Art Nouveau’

Photography by Anaika the top left and bottom ones were taken in Mumbai, and the top right one was taken in Paris

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