Alicja Dobrucka Transforms Mumbai’s Luxury Towers into Symbols of Inequality

Photographer Alicja Dobrucka’s photo series “Life is on a New High” highlights the harsh reality of urban development in Mumbai, the most populous city in India and home to the most skyscrapers in the country.

Since the ’90s Mumbai has seen a boom in the construction of supertall buildings and the number continues to grow. Most of these buildings are residential, intended for the extremely wealthy, advertised as palatial homes suited for royalty. The vast and luxurious mystique surrounding these structures seems to deny the other realities of the city: Mumbai is one of the most polluted places in India and half its inhabitants live in slum villages under extreme poverty. Dobrucka co-opts the flowery language of luxury ads for her titles, combining it with unaffected, true-to-life photographs of the structures, ultimately exposing the gulf between the two. In January 2015 London’s South Kiosk presents Dobrucka’s recent works at London Art Fair and at the gallery in “By Set Square, Compass and Eye,” a show with fellow photographer Emma Charles.

Experience the richness of life at every step (2013) pits a huge skyscraper against a bleak landscape of slum villages and smog. The immensity of the building is far from impressive or luxurious, towering over the field of shacks like an industrial monster. Similarly, in Wake up every day to a spectacular view of the blue sky romancing the sea. Come home to beach side joys. (2013), a slum village takes up the majority of the frame as a skyscraper looms over the village like a sentry tower, while several others in various stages of construction overwhelm the background. 

If your tastes match with the President of France, We Have just the right home for you. (2013) depicts a behemoth building under construction dubbed the “Palais Royale.” Viewing the building in the photo, a monstrosity swathed in tarps and scaffolding, the majestic title is clearly a misnomer. Dobrucka’s photos skillfully highlight the uniformity of the buildings, like the three towers in You don’t just invite friends over. You invite awe. (2013). They stand side-by-side, flat and identical, notable only for the obscenity of their proportions. Shown as they are, the buildings don’t live up to how they’re described. The promises of awe, luxury, and majesty become empty. Other homes have works of art. Yours is one. (2013) shows another building under construction, completely wrapped in blue and green industrial tarps. Standing next to a normal-sized run-down apartment building, it appears as a bizarre extension of the lush tree line below. 

Through utilizing advertising language Dobrucka folds these works into a newfangled luxury myth—a myth of prodigiousness and awe-inspiring architecture reserved for the elite. It’s as if the sheer immensity of the buildings is enough to deem them masterpieces. 

—M.A. Wholey

By Set Square, Compass and Eye” is on view at South Kiosk, London, Jan. 15–Feb. 14, 2015.

Visit South Kiosk at London Art Fair, Projects, booth P4, Jan. 21–25, 2015.

Follow South Kiosk on Artsy.

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