Designers and artists are using Mumbai’s taxi interiors as a canvas

The black and yellow taxis that fill the streets of Mumbai have long been iconic symbols of city life in India. Now, some are undergoing a transformation, thanks to the work of a new design platform which is turning the interiors into contemporary canvases.

Taxi Fabric, which launched last year and connects young designers with taxi drivers, has so far turned more than 40 vehicles into works of art. Each unique work by an up-and-coming Indian designer tells a story, featuring anything from Indian freedom fighters to Bollywood heroes, as well as other local tales inspired by the city.

While originally the project was funded simply by a Kickstarter campaign, the initiative has now proved so popular that one of the taxis has featured in a Coldplay video, and brands such as Google  and Architectural Digest are commissioning the makeover of yet more taxis. The waiting list for drivers awaiting their turn has at least 200 names on it.

The project is the brainchild of Sanket Avlani, curator and art director at Taxi Fabric. He grew up using the taxis as his preferred mode of transport, but began to look at them with a fresh perspective when he began working in the arts.

While documenting the industrial grade fabrics used in the vehicles for a blog, Avlani and a few others began thinking about designing more engaging interiors themselves. “We were all designers and illustrators, so we could digitally create it and come up with these patterns and graphics and prints,” he says. “But it took us a long time to actually interpret them on fabric and finally execute the whole thing.”

After two years in preparation, the project formally launched in 2015. And while it had initially began as an idea to simply makeover some taxis, by the time of the launch, the intention was that it’d act as a platform for designers, too. The first driver to have his vehicle transformed was someone whose began work each day at a taxi stand near Avlani’s home.

Word soon spread, however. “The drivers initially felt that it was only like a free makeover for them,” says Avland. “But when they started interacting with the passengers, they realised these designs are engaging – they’re not just a blast of colour but they’re rich in their content and people are starting to ask them about it.”

“It was very surprising for all of us involved, the way people accepted the project and the way they are reacting to it,” he goes on. “Small things, like kids refusing to get out of the taxi, and grandmas going ‘I’m never going to forget this ride’, and people taking photographs with the drivers.”

Each design is the result of a collaborative process between a designer and the drivers, who are encouraged to communicate about what they would like. The development stage, during which the designer is working on ideas for ten metres of fabric, can take between two to three weeks, while the fitting process takes two days.

For the designers themselves, the platform is also changing perceptions in India, where the concept of design as a medium for communication and social good has had limited scope.

Taxi Fabric has already moved on to working on the interiors of Rickshaws, as well as expanding the project to Delhi; they’ll soon begin work in Bangalore, too. And, while taxis will remain the core of the company, it’s also launching a fabric range for home décor and clothing. Avlani and the team are working on making the material available for private cars, too.

You can see each designer and their taxi on taxifabric.org

This feature was published on CityMetric

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