As children they played with dolls. As girls they helped their mothers. As wives they did the same thing all over again. Whether it is playing with a kitchen set as a child or planning the day’s meal as a mother, much is done to instil in a woman that the space best for her is the home. A home has come to mean unease, restriction of freedom and a limitation of one’s dreams. Yet, ironically, much of the human experience can be lived out and understood within the borders of a home space. Home is confinement but home could also be release.
Dekha Undekha’s first joint workshop on 12th September 2011 was a determined effort to get the thirteen participants to discuss their relationship with and their experience of their homes and domestic items. The groups under the Dekha Undekha initiative – textiles, photography and ceramics – met at the SNEHA centre in Santa Cruz. The workshop was led by two of the facilitators: Susie Vickery and Nandita Kumar. It was a sangamam of sorts, a confluence of three distributaries. The facilitators also aimed at a brainstorming session on themes and production avenues for the final exhibition, evaluation of the process so far and the areas in which the participants have gained.
After the preliminary introductions over breakfast, the workshop kick-started with an exercise that involved blinding the participants. Not literally, of course. The participants were put into pairs in which one member described in detail her home and family members while the other person, who was ‘blind’, drew in detail the partner’s home. The exercise was then repeated with the roles reversed. Detail, colour and precision were required of the participants. The resultant drawings were rudimentary but revelatory. The participants had depicted spatial differences, perspectives, various household items and what certain corners and areas meant to them.
From the many homes that were transferred onto paper, the participants themselves chose common elements. As an exercise in abstraction, the participants were asked to choose two of the concrete domestic items and relate to them emotionally, represent them anyway they liked on paper and tell a story of their lives revolving around those items. From household objects that ranged from clocks to mice, one of the participants named Anaaya* from the textile group, chose a rolling pin. A rolling pin, as she explained, is an object of love when a mother chooses to make rotis for the child. But, the rolling pin is also a weapon of violence when a mother hits her child with it. A participant from the photography group, Sunita, chose to talk about a gas stove. As a woman who is a victim of domestic violence, she had drawn two gas stoves: one that was burning and one that wasn’t. Contrary to what we might logically deduce, the burning stove was a symbol of happiness and marital peace. The stove, as a metaphor for the hearth, burned on happy days when there were no scenes of domestic violence. On days when there has been a heated argument at home, the stove did not burn and the children went cold and hungry.
A common thread among the narratives was a view on things as being double edged swords. A household object that was a source of comfort could be in other circumstances a symbol of discord. While some participants were very innovative about the exercise, many faced some teething troubles. As Nandita observed, adults are not as flexible with their imagination as children are. They do not let their creativity flow and have to be given a set framework within which they can tackle abstract ideas.
After a day’s work of hard thought, the mentors decided to give the participants a break by letting them unwind in a creative manner. Glitzy fashion magazines were strewn on the floor. A shelf on wheels was rolled into the room. The exercise was to visualize the cupboard as the human body. The participants got into groups based on which body part they wanted to work on – legs, hands, head and stomach. The room was filled with excited talk and the sound of scissors snipping away at the magazines. In half an hour’s time a human shelf was brought to life and much adored by all the people.
The day ended with the facilitators discussing the road ahead. The biggest challenge that lies in store for Dekha Undekha is to find a common arena where all the creative output of the three groups could culminate in a thematic manner. Anjani Khanna, who mentors the ceramic group, stated that it is important to impart skills to the artisans that can be sustained long after Dekha Undekha finishes their tryst with them. The facilitators themselves felt it was important to programme more concrete exercises for the participants and to ask leading questions which will elicit more involvement from the participants.
What one takes back home from that day is that though not all the participants were clued in on the necessity of the workshop, everybody had lot of fun doing what they did. The participants showed startling insight into the domestic conditions of their lives. It was a chance to meet the members of the other groups whom they had only heard of. As one of them said, it was like they had known each other for ages.
* Name changed to protect identity