Pairing emerging designers with taxi drivers, the Taxi Fabric project is transforming Mumbai cars into nomadic works of art.
Take a peek into the stunning interiors of a growing fleet of Mumbai taxis, complete with vibrant, immersive designs created by local artists and inspired by the city itself.
An extraordinary scene is currently driving around Mumbai
It’s called the Taxi Fabric project and was founded by a 28-year-old art director and self-taught designer called Sanket Avlani. It’s an innovative campaign that offers free upholstery makeovers to taxis in Mumbai. Supported by Kickstarter crowdfunding, the one-of-a-kind project has spruced up ten taxis in the city so far, turning seat covers, interior ceilings and door panels into spirited, imaginative environments.
The results of such efforts speak for themselves. Taxis are transformed into art installations and rides become engaging, immersive and nostalgic experiences. Each design is unique, created by local emerging designers who take inspiration from drivers’ stories and different facets of the city. Kunel Gaur, one of the designers, wrote on Taxi Fabric’s tumblr page:
This will be the first time ever that we will have some of the most amazing artists in the country giving a healthy dose of ‘good design’ to a canvas that moves, touching each and every person whatsoever, wherever. It’s just a start, and we’re about to witness it go wild, reaching other cities and tourist towns [and] expressing itself in unique ways.
Taxi culture in Mumbai
According to Taxi Fabric’s website, taxis are not only the most convenient form of transport in Mumbai but also an iconic piece of the city’s culture. Drivers pay a lot of attention to their vehicles, and it’s common for them to customise their cars with window decorations and trinkets on the dashboard. Designer Pavithra Dikshit told Citylab:
The taxi is like a desk at work. [Drivers] spend their whole day in it so for them, it has to look interesting. […] it makes [them] feel good about spending [time] in it daily.
Notwithstanding such efforts by drivers, little thought was given to interior fabrics prior to Taxi Fabric’s initiative. Founder Avlani tells Dawn:
It’s a blind spot, isn’t it? Taxi seat covers, I mean […] occasionally, [drivers] revamp the taxis from outside by putting on stickers and stuff like that but it dawned on me that no one was paying attention to the interior.
Inspired by such a realisation, Avlani began connecting young Indian designers with taxi drivers, turning seat covers into canvases for local talent. As The Quint reports, the perspective of the taxi driver is important in the creative process. Designers are encouraged to meet with the cabbie, not just to take account of preferences and measurements, but also to gather information about their personalities, stories and life views. The Quint writes:
[…] casual conversations with the drivers about what makes them smile, and how they perceive the city, hints at common motifs like chai, dabbawallas, birds, etc. […] [which] are […] incorporated into the designs.
A large and captive audience for local talents
The project is as much about revamping the face of Mumbai transport as providing opportunities for emerging designers and artists. As Taxi Fabric’s website states:
Design, as a job or even simply something studied at school, is unfortunately not widely recognised in India. Older generations don’t understand it – design to them just performs a function […]. With so few spaces for young people to show off their skills, it’s hard to change that perception.
As Alvani tells The National, the initiative offers incredible exposure to each designer. Their fabric designs, once installed in taxis, “[have] the potential to be exposed to at least 5,000 to 6,000 people in […] six months”, which is a lot more than what most art exhibitions can offer. The designer is credited in a label attached to the driver’s seat, and designer Pranita Kocharekar tells The National that she has been contacted for other projects based on her taxi design. She says:
The best part is, people are clicking photos of the cab they are in and posting them on social media, giving me immense exposure.
For Avlani, Mumbai’s iconic black-and-yellow taxis are the perfect medium to display art “because they’re everywhere”, according to Citylab. He says, quoted by the newspaper:
It’s so easy for people taking those taxis to react to those designs if the stories they tell are those that they recognise. […] If even the driver gets excited about it, it’s a win-win for everybody.
Stories and images of peace
Each design is a culmination of the designer’s personal style, the driver’s stories and inspirations from the city. Tasneem Amiruddin’s The Jungle Book features radiant blue upholstery representing the Arabian sea, as well as iconic Mumbai landmarks, including the Gateway of India, while Pavithra Dikshit’s Urban Garden pays tribute to the city’s vividly coloured flora.
The two latest cabs to receive makeovers feature designs referencing India and Pakistan’s Independence Days. Gaur, an experienced designer who started his career working with the team from London Underground to design Delhi Metro’s signage system, created A Century of Revolt “inspired by a century of struggle by young India desperate for freedom”.
Meanwhile, Pakistani artist Samya Arif’s stunning and heartwarming Monad depicts two women facing each other with their braids intertwining. The design honours the bond between the two countries, symbolising the unity and embodiment of a single spirit. Arif said in a Facebook post, quoted by Tribune:
Happy Independence day to us and our life-long neighbour and partner, India. Its about time we come together and strengthen our love, we are the same.
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