Relocating Bodies

“A woman takes her skin off every night at the threshold of her house after her husband falls asleep. Leaving the skin on the threshold, she walks out to meet her lover, spends the night with him, and comes back to her husband before dawn after putting the skin back on. The husband finds out about her dalliance. When his wife leaves the house one night, the husband coats the inner lining of the skin with salt and goes back to sleep. When she puts the skin back on that morning, the salt burns her”

The domestic space can be simultaneously safe and fraught with tension. It is demarcated into designated areas of utility and leisure through walls and columns. The permutations of these built elements can result in unique compositions, with the constituent space occupying energy specific to that arrangement. The kitchen space has been imagined as quintessential because of the role it plays in literally sustaining the occupants of the household. The kitchen, as Vidur pointed out, is ‘taxonomic’; each item in the space carries a function and clusters of the same kind are categorized together with the result that a disruption in the routine results in conflict. But the order generated from the routine also dissipates the occupant’s subjectivity. While the routine occupies the mind of the actor, it also generates a sense of loss in how they lose agency over their movements. The kitchen eats up time.

Salt. Sugar. Turmeric.

Actant Preeti Singh finds herself thinking of war zones and their attendant conflicts when she’s peeling potatoes in her kitchen. As news about the Balakot strikes runs in the backdrop, she finds herself staring into the distant horizon, her mind occupied with conflicts not immediately her own. Back on earth, her hands remain engaged in the act of peeling. What if one were to remove the kitchen from the architecture of the house? Does it dismantle the patriarchal imagination of the house? Erasing the kitchen space concomitantly erases the female ‘care-giver’ from the picture; the source of sustenance goes missing and causes anxiety amongst its receptors.

Kneading. Peeling. Ellipsis

Preeti looks at the physical asphyxiation evoked by narratives of service, where the body of the female is imagined in association with the space of the kitchen. She extends her imagination to the war zone, where the kitchen acquires the quality of a distinctly feminine space and a respite from the masculine battlefield. What does it mean for women to go to a war field? One is led to think of the nineteenth century phenomenon of camp followers, where women were hired by army regiments to cook, clean, wash and generally sustain the troops. How does the queer body fit into the picture?

As collaborator Vidur points out: to not have to enter the kitchen also points to a certain degree of social and/or gender privilege, and power is held by the one who spends less time in the kitchen. Away from the spectacle of war generated by dominant media narratives, Preeti intends to stretch her area of interest from the space of the home to the war-kitchen through interviews in order to understand how the banal can be political. ‘From Home to War Kitchen’ explores the idea of duration as it materializes in the kitchen space and how the acting (and gendered) body is enveloped by both stasis and conflict. In its formative stage currently, the project will eventually take the shape of a performance, where she decodes sexual difference through questions around femininity, domesticity and discipline, and dissects the idea of the ‘home’ to arrive at an understanding of her position as a working woman in her family.

Myths. Family. Threshold

Paribartana’s family members in conversation with each other at Siddhartha Hall, Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi | Credit: Annette Jacob

Through public discussions with family members as participants, Actant Paribartana Mohanty attempts to understand if/how the family can be imagined beyond natural genealogies by forging kinships with people of shared affinities. He will bring a community of Oriya artists together for the second phase of the project where he will explore ideas of fraternity in a departure from the nationalist imagination of the Hindu sangh parivaar. Having grown up in a patriarchal, male-dominated joint-family, Paribartana has had to make many negotiations as an artist. Understanding the absence of a certain vocabulary in his family, he has had to navigate attacks on his masculinity, his mother’s insistence on consuming vegetarian food during ill-health and the constant negotiations of power dynamics within the household. Paribartana used the tool of the folktale to open up seemingly uncomfortable discussions. While the concept of the joint family has dissolved geopolitically, the idea of the unity-in-habitation it begets has persisted in the South Asian imaginary. Using the temporal slippage in symbolic order allowed by the alternative cosmologies that folktales inhabit, he tries to understand the friction he has observed, experienced and studied within his family.

“Can I find a way to resolve my guilt through art?”

In the first phase of the project, Paribartana examined the possibility of a household that departs from its patriarchal constraints on mobility and expression. The house of the urban nuclear family, as he explains, has one door whereas older houses in native Orissa have two doors- a main entry/exit for regular usage and a backdoor used to visit toilets, farms and forests. His house in Delhi (where he lives with his wife and artist Akansha Rastogi) has sparked conflicts between himself and his parents (as well as extended family members) due to disparities in lifestyle and the visibility of that lifestyle made unavoidable by the absence of a backdoor. One of the sessions organized as part of the project was devised around the possibility of designing a modern household where the nuclear and extended family units could co-exist. The discussions included debates around the privacy of the nuclear family, areas demarcated by gender and the possibility of a library (and by extension, a space for dialogue) around the dining table in the hope of provoking a change in the nature of conversations between members of the household. The need for this discussion arose not so much out of an attempt to dissolve hierarchy as exploring the logistical possibilities of architecture to resolve conflicts. The idea is to see if and how spatial configurations within the home can alter relationships between its inhabitants.

Paribartana’s architectural blueprint for the modern nuclear house
Credit: Annette Jacob

Both the projects deal with the space of the home, its attendant ideas of containment, comfort, unity, kinship and the uncomfortable questions around violation of privacy, routine interference and clash of ideologies borne out of generational gaps. Each project extends its scope in different directions- whether it is in the understanding of gender in conflict zones or segregation of spaces as a way of preserving filial relationships. The artists depart from expectations of unconditional unity and service to imagine a new methodology of survival around lived realities. The thresholds must be re-mapped.

Cover Image: Preeti Singh

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