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Mumbai Re-Imagined, Valay Shende’s Unique Art Installations

Smriti Malhotra


In June 2019, Phoenix Palladium hosted an exhibition of life-sized installations by Valay Shende called, “Spirit of Bombay”. The large installations depicted the known and popular symbols of Mumbai, these were re-imagined in a creative manner by the Nagpur-born artist.


The exhibition ‘Spirit of Bombay’ drew upon the unflinching spirit of the city that never sleeps and slows down. The artworks made by Shende draw from everyday life and are an ode to the city, showcasing his love for the city, its people, and its vibrant culture. His artworks comment upon the issues of migration, and urbanisation and are reflective of the struggles of the middle and working class. Each of these themes is shown in the six sculptures that were displayed at the Phoenix Palladium. One iconic image of Dabbawala – a tiffin delivery man who reflects the fast-paced nature of the city and is an integral part of Mumbai, is often showcased in many popular cultural formats – films, tv shows, art, etc. The Mumbai dabbawala that was showcased at Phoenix Palladium is a recurrent theme in the artist’s creations, these showcase the punctuality of the tiffin delivery system unique to the city and country. The tiffin boxes are shaped like human stomachs, the iconic sculpture was also displayed at Haji Ali.

Valay Shende’s Dabbawala at The Phoenix Palladium, Mumbai in 2019

The pieces are made by assembling stainless steel objects and discs together to create sculptures that are reminiscent of the city and evoke a sense of familiarity within the viewer.


Valay Shende was trained at J.J School of Art, Mumbai, he has gone on to showcase his works in many art institutions in the country and worldwide, and his work over the years has garnered a lot of attention and critique from art enthusiasts and art collectors. Speaking about his use of metal discs for his sculptures, he says in an interview with Avni Raut for Architectural Digest, “My father was a scrap metal merchant so I grew up around all kinds of metals and somewhere this memory of the material stuck with me. I also found these discs to be an interesting representation of atoms and molecules—the common core of everything on this planet,”.

Some of the other installations which were displayed at the exhibit were ‘Virar Fast’, which reflects a normal experience in the Mumbai local train. The local trains are woven within the fabric of the city, Shende’s sculpture showcases the small clusters that are formed whilst travelling and how the common man travels during peak hours in the city. Another unique stainless piece is the Buffalo, Shende pays homage to the simple animal that is seen in abundance in India’s landscape, comparing it to the common simple man of the land.

Shende’s Buffalo at the Phoenix, Palladium, Mumbai in 2019

Another popular installation which was on display at the Palladium was the life-sized truck carrying workers called Transit. The installation comments upon the class and caste disparity that exists in the country, showcasing the discomfort of the daily lives of these common wage workers. This unique masterpiece was also displayed at the Musée d’art Contemporain de Lyon (Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art) in France in the year 2011. It took around one and a half years to conceptualise and make this large installation that left the audience awe-struck at the Palladium. Speaking about the artwork, Shende states in an interview for Architectural Digest “Women and men look into the void as the rearview mirrors of the truck project moving images of the wealthy in metropolises.”


Speaking about this initiative at the Phoenix Palladium, Director Gayatri Ruia says in an interview with Indulge Express, “Valay Shende’s sculptures embody the spirit of Mumbai through their breathtaking scale and compelling social commentary. We want to be able to bring the artist’s unique imagining of the city to the people of Mumbai.”

Shende’s work has this unique ability to showcase mundane and simple experiences and make a strong point. He takes popular symbols and represents them in a new and surprising manner.

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