What does home mean to you? Is it a tangible thing denoted by a physical structure, a geographic location, and a collection of objects, or is it about feelings and relationships?
An ongoing exhibition, curated by photographer Bharat Sikka, in New Delhi tried to find meaning in this elusive idea of home. Titled ‘Nowhere Is Home’, this nearly-abstract exhibit, on view at GallerySKE and PHOTOINK till 30 November, features the works of three young artists. They have brought in their ideas, images, and experiences to build a catalogue of memories (or of losing them), nostalgia, and the complicated and ever-shifting nature of this landmark.
Propaganda in family photographs
Yashna Kaul first discovered her family's old albums while preparing a book of memories for her mother's 50th birthday. Later, when she went to college in New York, a professor introduced her to the idea of making projects about photography instead of making photo projects. That propelled her to look at those old photo albums from the 1980s and 1990s for inspiration.
"I started [the project] initially by looking at photography’s relationship with memory because my dad had Alzheimer's," says Kaul. She chose pictures clicked by her father in the burst mode—where you click the shutter and take many pictures in a succession—and constructed collages and animations out of them, to be displayed on a television screen.
She also noticed in photographs of her father that he was always wearing some rings associated with Vedic gemology. It’s no wonder then that in the album sleeves, she has focused on his hands while keeping his face out. "I wanted to focus on the hands, and that was a way for me to introduce my father in the exhibition as the person taking the photographs," explains Kaul.
This absence of his face also alludes to the fact that her father was polygamous, and that Kaul was part of his second family. These pictures, which capture the idyllic "Kodak" moments, do not show any sign of it. "[But] when I work with the photographs now or even when I look at the project now, I think it has much more to do with the performance of photography in the family, like how there is propaganda in family photographs," says Kaul.
Home as a space of negotiations
For Devashish Gaur, the discovery of an archive of family photos triggered his curiosity about the patriarchal power structures existing within and outside the home. The 26-year-old photographer from New Delhi draws from the memories of his grandfather, a freedom fighter and a multidisciplinary professional. He never met him but has now found a way to connect with his life through these photographs. It has also allowed him to think of his relationship with his father, and his sense of self.
"There is a strong sense of belonging and self-identity within the work, and I feel that is what the idea of home for me is—an ever-changing, almost fluid space of negotiations, love, memories and an acceptable ugliness that is hard to leave behind," says Gaur.
One of the curious objects on display at the exhibit is a box filled with family photographs. It seems that he is collecting the entire family history in one place. Another is a series of shots documenting a man combing his hair. The sense of intimacy in these collages is almost discomfiting, just like how you would feel looking inside someone's house through a wide-open window. You do not want to pry, but you cannot really look away.
That is a challenge that any artist would face while showcasing such personal belongings. For Gaur, it almost comes naturally: "It’s almost as if invading private space is easier when it is your family; you can get away with it.”
This display from his ongoing series, "This is The Closest We Will Get", also allows him to bear witness to the masculine tendencies in his family. Imposing himself over the existing material (like the overlay of his face over the patriarchs) is an intimate act. "It creates a map that allows me to ideate and relate to where I come from, irrespective of how alienating it can be," he says.
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A search for home
Abhishek Khedekar grew up in Dapoli, a small seaside town dotted with hills, in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. He gained a new interest in his hometown while going through the archives of Dapoli-based commercial photographer Subhash Kolekar.
"When I was going through one of his portraits clicked in a small studio in the city, he told me about how he would keep it natural and follow simple, plain backgrounds,” says Khedekar. Another thing Kolekar did was listen to his LP player while developing films. A song would last around five minutes, the same time it would take for the film development.
This inspired Khedekar, and he started photographing his town, capturing places he remembered on his medium format camera. "Putting up my camera [and] loading the film allows me to think and frame my pictures. It takes some time, but it gives me brain space to go into that zone and get that feeling," explains Khedekar.
This nostalgic imprint creates the image of a place in a state of flux and still lost to time, perhaps something to do with how he sees it. One of his most striking photographs is of tall trees rising out and through a dilapidated building—an old church from the British era in the town. "The trees are holding it. If somebody cuts the trees, it will be completely gone," he says.
His landscapes and the framing of Kolekar's work provide an amalgam of memories. It is an ongoing exploration. Khedekar planned to shoot with Kolekar, but sadly, the photographer passed away a few months ago. The inspiration, however, carries on. "Dapoli will call me again. And whenever I go, I will keep taking pictures," says Khedekar.
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