Mumbai's taxi ceilings are lined with distinctive patterns.
  • A Mumbai-based journalist named Rachel Lopez has been documenting the colourful ceilings of the city's black-and-yellow taxis, also known as kaali-peeli cabs.
  • Lopez began taking photos of the vibrant ceilings in April 2017.
  • She has captured more than 500 photographs of taxi ceilings, which she has shared on her Instagram.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

A Mumbai-based journalist named Rachel Lopez has been photographing the intricate ceilings of taxis around the city.

Courtesy of Rachel Lopez

Lopez works as a journalist for the Hindustan Times, where she writes features and frequently covers the history and culture of Mumbai, India. Her work requires her to travel to different parts of the city, meaning she's spent a lot of time in taxis.

More than two years ago, Lopez began documenting the vibrant ceilings of Mumbai's black-and-yellow cabs, known as kaali-peeli taxis, on Instagram.


Lopez started taking photos of the ceilings in April 2017 after looking up to find the decorative fabric during one of her normal commutes.

Courtesy of Rachel Lopez

"I was headed to work on a warm April day in 2017, and noticed that my taxi had a ceiling with a chocolate-brown background offset by strawberries in unnatural colours like purple, green and blue," Lopez said. "It was ghastly. I loved it immediately and wanted to take a shot for fun."


Now, her Instagram feed is filled with hundreds of photos featuring just half of her face, and a colourful backdrop.

Courtesy of Rachel Lopez

"The method is simple," Lopez told Insider. "I take a taxi and realise once I'm inside and looking up if it's a ceiling I haven't photographed."

"What emerges is my half-face - mostly a forehead, eyes, nose and scarf - and a dramatic backdrop that might feature anything from an assemblage of fruit (melons, kiwis, maybe a pineapple), wallpaper florals, and bright geometric shapes, to pinned plastic blooms, butterflies, and pinwheels," she added.

Lopez also explained that her collection of selfies "makes for the most unusual art gallery," as "each work of art is hanging separately and in constant motion on the streets."


Lopez said that roughly two-thirds of the taxis she's been in have had printed designs on the ceiling.

Courtesy of Rachel Lopez

"The sheeting is printed in these cool designs as decoration - and many, many patterns recur," Lopez said. "Ride-app vehicles don't have them. Their interiors are boring, gray felt and their drivers are polite, but nowhere near as interesting as the regular taxis."


Most of the taxi ceilings in Mumbai are covered with patterned plastic or vinyl because it's easier to clean than felt fabric.

Courtesy of Rachel Lopez

"We drive with the windows rolled down here, and the dust and the grime gets in," Lopez explained. "I've found that two out of three taxis will have covered their interiors with some plastic sheeting because it's just easier to wipe clean."

In an interview with Architectural Digest, Lopez explained that the plastic coverings come from factories in China. "Neither the driver nor the garage team chooses the prints - they pick whatever from the factory is available," she said.


Lopez has around 500 photographs of various taxi ceilings in her collection now.

Courtesy of Rachel Lopez

According to Lopez, the biggest challenge will be finding a ceiling that she hasn't already photographed.

"With 500 images in the bank, my chances of finding a ceiling I haven't photographed are slimmer," Lopez told Insider.


The colourful photos in Lopez's collection have been met with an overwhelming response.

Courtesy of Rachel Lopez

The diversity of the designs in Lopez's collection is what surprises viewers the most. She also said that visitors from abroad now plan to take a taxi photo when they visit thanks to her photos.

"Everyone from Mumbai is surprised that we have these many designs," Lopez said. "I guess we all sort of knew that there were patterns over our head, but no one had given them much thought. I certainly hadn't."


She ultimately hopes that viewers will see a new side of Mumbai ...

Courtesy of Rachel Lopez

"I hope viewers will take away the idea that Mumbai is beautiful and crazy in unexpected ways," Lopez said. "That we don't look up enough and our lives are poorer for it. That art is everywhere."


... And that people will become inspired to change their focus from time to time.

Courtesy of Rachel Lopez

Lopez thinks that "our selfie-obsessed generation might do well to consider changing their focus for a change."


Lopez is on a mission to document every ceiling pattern found in Mumbai taxis, with hopes of showing them all in an art gallery one day.

Courtesy of Rachel Lopez

Lopez said that her series is far from over.

"I have shot 500 designs, so far. No two are alike (though there are colour variations in some patterns, and sometimes a papaya sneaks into a familiar fruit platter). And I haven't shot them all," she said.


If you ever find yourself riding in a taxi in Mumbai, don't forget to look up.

Courtesy of Rachel Lopez

You can see what Lopez's next trip looks like by following her on Instagram.

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