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Brunei
Sunday, July 3, 2022
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Sunday, July 3, 2022
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    Offbeat art fest puts abandoned US town back on map

    BOMBAY BEACH, United States (AFP) – By any stretch of the imagination, Bombay Beach is an oddity, starting with its exotic name, its location by a dying lake and the post-apocalyptic landscape that greets visitors.

    The desert town, once a thriving resort set along the Salton Sea, is among the poorest communities in California, its 250 or so residents seemingly forgotten by the rest of the world.

    Most of the homes have been abandoned for decades, their yards filled with beat-up trailers and rusted cars.

    But the tiny hamlet is experiencing a rebirth of sorts as a group of artists and well-heeled sponsors have taken up residence, buying up dirt-cheap property and organising an annual three-day festival called the Bombay Beach Biennale.

    Launched in 2016, the festival, which is being held this weekend, is the brainchild of three Los Angeles-based friends – Tao Ruspoli, a filmmaker and artist, Stefan Ashkenazy, an art collector and hotelier, and Lily Johnson White, a philanthropist and member of the Johnson & Johnson family.

    Hat-maker Victoria Grant displays some of her work before a hat fashion show on the first day of the Bombay Beach Biennale in Bombay Beach, California. – PHOTOS: AFP
    Bombay Beach Biennale co-organiser Tao Ruspoli gets around town on a self-balancing electric unicycle in Bombay Beach

    Ruspoli said he learned about the town about a decade ago after he stumbled on a book about the Salton Sea – the largest lake in California, created in 1905 by an engineering error and now shrinking – and was enthralled after a first visit.

    “It’s mystifying and wonderful and weird,” said Ruspoli, 43, who is the son of an Italian prince and was once married to actress Olivia Wilde.

    “It’s so removed from the kind of homogeneity that exists in the rest of America where you have a Denny’s and a gas station at every corner,” he told AFP on a recent tour of the town.

    Ruspoli said he plunked down USD20,000 for his first house in Bombay Beach in 2011 – right after his divorce from Wilde – and the idea for the offbeat festival took shape on a weekend trip there with Ashkenazy and White.

    The tiny town – one square mile – today boasts a museum called the ‘Hermitage,’ a drive-in movie theatre filled with junkyard cars and an opera house decorated with disused flip-flops recovered from the beaches of Lagos, in Nigeria.

    Eccentric artworks – a dome made of discarded metal, an aircraft fuselage representing a fish, a slide made of twisted iron rods and two shipping containers in the form of a cross with the inside painted with religious figures representing “persecuted scientists” – make up some of the pieces on display at this year’s festival.

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