Every city has landmarks that are visible to all, places that can be easily noticeable and which attract tourists and visitors. However, beyond these ‘landmarks’, a city also comprises many interesting spaces that are important to locals, which largely remain invisible to visitors. Often these spaces carry meanings that are multi-layered, complex and implicit; ascribed over time through everyday spatial practices and negotiation. The spaces embed intrinsic socio-cultural connotations and the values of the local communities. They also largely come across as ‘mundane’, ‘chaotic’, ‘fragmented’ and ‘informal’ to onlookers, but carry within them an extraordinary and inherent order that forms the matrix for the everyday life and experience of the locals. With the My City InVisible project, we aimed to capture (extra)ordinary city spaces in Kozhikode through the lived experiences of the locals.

Kozhikode (previously called Calicut), is one of the prominent port cities in the south Indian state of Kerala, with a rich history of trade routes connecting Europe and South Asia with a vibrant trade base. Today, the major economic activities are in tertiary sectors such as services and IT related industries. A decade ago, the city was voted as one of the most liveable cities in India. The city has a good mix of working, living and entertainment opportunities, and is an internationally sought-after tourist destination. The city and the surrounding areas have a strong socio-economic profile, with a high literacy rate, a high female labour force participation rate and a high Human Development Index (HDI), that is at par with that of other developed countries. This city is therefore an attractive choice for skilled internal migrants from all other states of India.

Impact of COVID19 pandemic

The study officially commenced in December 2021.  The field study was delayed by several months due to the impact of the COVID19 pandemic. When the work started, there was a lot of fear in the general population. However, post-pandemic, the city has revived and restarted itself. Except for mask-wearing, signs of the pandemic were largely absent.

Field studies and consultation

Fifteen residents of Kozhikode (selected through local networks), were given the task of capturing pictures of various places in the city which they considered to be important for three days. One of these days included a Sunday in order to record weekend activities. Our participant sampling ensured diversity of age, sex, economic strata, job and location. The participant demographics included five men and ten women, out of which there were five students, four practitioners, two businessmen, one lawyer, one journalist, one teacher and one homemaker. An informal discussion meeting was conducted to explain the task and seek formal consent for participation and the use of photographs for the study.

Participants were asked to submit ten photographs that best reflected their ideas and experiences of good city spaces. Participants discussed their perspectives and their connection with the spaces with the entire group. In February 2022, in consultation with the participants over video calls, the number of photographs was reduced to three to four for inclusion in the artistic map produced for the project.

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Baskets of fruit on top of plastic crates line the roadside.