A subversive mural that makes a social point, a stone sculpture that enriches the city’s historical heritage, or an avant-garde installation that enlivens a busy street corner — public art corridors can indeed revitalise a city’s aesthetic essence and contribute to its growth.
An ardent collector of art for several decades, Chairman Harsh Goenka’s RPG House in Mumbai is nothing short of an art gallery. Brimming with paintings and sculptures of all hues, the building is an ode to art and culture, with its walls adorning the works of legendary artists such as SH Raza, Akbar Padamsee, MF Hussain and FN Souza.
Mr Goenka credits his deep passion for art to his early years in Kolkata, where he received an opportunity to interact with artists and musicians from various walks of life. “My home and offices are my art gallery. You won't find a single room without a painting or two adorning the walls,” he says.
Over the years, his prized collection has been showcased at art galleries and museums. However,
Mr Goenka feels that occasions or events such as these only cater to a niche audience. This thought gave birth to the RPG Art Foundation, founded with a vision of making art accessible to all. The artists involved with the projects are given a straightforward brief — to keep it simple and create art that is symbolic of Mumbai and its storied heritage.
Under Mr Goenka’s refined aesthetic sensibilities, beautification projects in Mumbai’s public spaces have effectively grabbed attention, while imparting a commentary on its social, economic, and cultural journey through its familiar and enduring icons.
The Art Foundation has played a significant role in the installation of iconic artworks across key locations, such as 'The Dabbawala' in Haji Ali, 'The Fishermen' in Mahim and 'The Cameraman' in Bandra, all depicting the quintessential Mumbai life. “My vision is to beautify as many public spaces in Mumbai as possible,” says Mr Goenka.
Mumbai’s hybrid culture and diversity have been a cornerstone of RPG Art Foundation’s ethos, as are its experiments with new and established artists from across genres. Take, for instance, the Art Foundation’s newest installation near RPG headquarters in Mumbai. Created by Sheetal Gattani, ‘Cutting Chai’ is an artistic rendition of the city’s staple beverage that unites people from all sections of society. This simple, yet profound, installation reinstates the famous masala chai as an enduring symbol of Mumbai’s cultural heritage and the people who make it what it is.
Another aspect of Mumbai’s famed never-say-die spirit can be felt in Sameer Kulavoor’s ‘Wall of Gratitude’ — a mural spread over a massive 10,000 square feet façade on the exterior walls of RPG House. This installation art attempts to pay tribute to India’s frontline workers and healthcare professionals who risked their lives in the nation’s battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Foundation also seeks to honour sporting legends such as Sachin Tendulkar and Leander Paes, on whom Jaideep Mehrotra’s ‘Sachin’ sculpture and Krishna Kedar’s ‘Waves’ are themed, respectively.
Celebrating India’s glorious culture, the marine-themed Banganga playground is host to an eye-catching mural created by artist Shilo Shiv Suleman. It portrays the historical significance of the Banganga precinct in a fun and engaging way, designed to appeal especially to young children.
RPG Art Foundation’s unique relationship with Mumbai hinges on a shared love for culture, people, and community spaces in a city bustling with people at all hours of the day. The Foundation’s projects collectively aim to recreate the city’s character and capturing its spirit by commemorating personalities, celebrating heroes, and making outdoor spaces more engaging and inviting.
RPG’s tenet of blurring the lines between social classes is aptly translated into the Art Foundation’s public art pieces. Not only are these accessible to all, they are also designed to be uncomplicated in their messaging for everyone to comprehend and enjoy. In doing so, they provide professional opportunities for budding artists, and a platform where the creative class thrives, while nurturing a learning environment for locals and visitors alike.
“I have never looked at art as an investment. I don't have a commercial relationship with art. When I delve into an aesthetic composition, I cast aside my business brain and enjoy art for what it is,”
Mr Goenka in a November 2020 Business Today story on India Inc’s art connoisseurs.
Chairman Harsh Goenka’s reputation as a connoisseur of art has long preceded the Foundation. RPG Art Foundation’s numerous city beautification projects can be seen as an extension of this zeal to beautify the city's public spaces in line with his vision of spreading happiness.