Waste Work: the art of Survival in Dharavi

Posted on October 5, 2023

Waste Work: the art of Survival in Dharavico-edited by Ben Parry and Graham Jeffery and features contributions from a number of people who have been involved in the project over the years, has recently been published by Wunderkammer Press. It documents a long-term project about waste, circular economy and plastic recycling in the city of Mumbai which uses arts-based methods to establish an experimental learning space and innovation lab in Dharavi.

It will be of interest to readers who want to understand more about plastic waste and informal economies, how disposability and marginalization might be rethought by paying more attention to the ways that people, labour and the spaces that they inhabit are entangled with the afterlives and journeys of discarded objects and materials, and the challenges and ethics of knowledge production and knowledge sharing in highly charged urban contexts like Dharavi. It also explores practice-based methods, creative and participatory approaches and the possibilities – and limitations – of arts-based work in such settings.

Compound 13 Lab is situated close to one of the city’s main recycling hubs, where each week thousands of tons of plastic waste are sorted, cleaned, and processed. Workers in this industry are amongst the lowest paid and lowest status in the city. Using art, design, music, media and experimental science to generate knowledge and share learning, Compound 13 Lab explores the complex politics of the informal city and the biopolitics of disposability: how to make a living and survive within the everyday exclusions of such highly contested urban spaces.

The project offers ‘materials of hope’ for young people and workers caught up in the vicious cycles of an economy and society that treats them as disposable.