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How artist duo Bohra Sisters bring alive childhood memories

Sisters Sakina and Zainab Sabunwala depict slice-of-life stop motion videos with kind grandparents, much food and old songs humming in the background

A screenshot of the Bohra Sisters' Instagram grid
A screenshot of the Bohra Sisters' Instagram grid (@bohrasisters on Instagram)

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A woman sits elegantly on a sofa with tea things around her, intermittently blinking at the viewer as a Hindi song plays in the backdrop. As it rains, an older couple and two children gather near a tea stall waiting for chai. Schoolgirls stop on their way home to shake a branch and collect the flowers that shower from it.

These are some of the moments of stillness that the Instagram handle Bohra Sisters capture in their animated artwork. The duo behind the handle are Sakina and Zainab Sabunwala, artist sisters belonging to the Dawoodi Bohra community. Originally hailing from Udaipur, the sisters depict in their art the many quirks of quotidian city life, childhood memories, food, and their grandparents, to whom their page is in fact dedicated.

Their art highlights small, everyday moments in minute detail. It also seems inspired by them. “If we take a moment and notice the small things in life, we can find love in almost everything. And the more open and accepting we become to love around us, the more we can get inspired to spread it too,” says Zainab.

But a binding, overarching factor in the Bohra Sisters’ artwork is an evocative appreciation of stillness. The art comprises stopmotion animation videos of scenes plucked out of daily life —of buying flowers at a flower market, of slow Sunday afternoons lounging in night dresses, of a grandmother rocking her chair with her grandchildren milling about her. “There’s beauty in the smallest of things around us. It’s up to us to take the time and appreciate it,” says Sakina.

Videos about the preparation of food are particularly mesmerising in how they still you, hold you in their grasp. The video about making a falooda takes you through the steps in a slow, enticing way, building up a sense of anticipation.

Another theme that the sisters keep tapping into is nostalgia. “We started this page so that we could recreate and relive our most cherished childhood memories. So you can say that our page was literally built on the grounds of nostalgia,” says Zainab. Childhood memories of people and places is both a subject and an integral source of inspiration, so that nostalgia comes pouring out of each work.

Take for instance the video about schoolgirls shaking branches of a tree and collecting the flowers dropping from it, or a young girl contentedly enjoying a bowl of noodles with her grandmother. It is this very nostalgia that in a sense, stops time for the artists, and enables their focus on the minutiae of everyday life. These moments are then lingered over lovingly, creating an atmosphere of hush and calmness.

The sisters have worked on their craft over the time they’ve been engaging with it, but their core themes have remained consistent, giving them a distinct voice and approach. Their vision, Sakina says, “has always been the same — to spread love and smiles far and wide. That’s what connects us to our audience, and that’s what we want to continue doing in the future.”

Tasneem Pocketwala writes on culture, identity, gender, cities and books. She is based in Mumbai.

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