STUDIO OTHERWORLDS

2019-ongoing, Kapashera, Delhi-Gurgaon border, supported by KHOJ international artists association

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Studio Otherworlds emerged out of a call for socially-engaged art projects by KHOJ in 2019. At the time, I had just concluded the second phase of my PhD fieldwork in and about tenement towns in the extended metropolitan region of Delhi. Many of my observations on land, housing, migration, and othering in these tenement towns led me to the conclusion that no amount of critical writing on them could translate into actual change as the migrants, locals, and the state were at odds to each other and in a state of constant denial.

I was researching on a topic that although was a large structural building block for the 'Indian growth story' and the rise of the middle class, was completely ignored by the state and its policy makers. Furthermore, there were very elaborate ways and means of invisualising these tenement towns and their everyday lives. Having collaborated with my friend and artist Sumedha Garg on socially relevant art and design projects in the past, I put forward an idea for a collaborative project that would bring together my academic research and art practice as a socially-engaged art project.

Sumedha took my academic understanding of tenement towns and translated it into a vision for socially engaged art that could radically alter and interfere with the class and gender dynamics in the tenement towns. After successfully securing a grant from KHOJ, Sumedha started to organise walks in the community with the people from all social classes, ethnic, and gender affiliations. She started to also register the intertwined mythologies that people build in the interstices in these places. 

Our next move was to establish a safe space, a community art studio within the community, where anyone could come and express themselves. Soon, seven women from a local women workers union 'Sakhi Kala Manch' started coming to us on a daily basis and formed a collective by the name of 'Saat Saheliyan' (Seven Sisters). Along with them, we instituted a collective cartographic inquiry into the planetary entanglements of the tenement town Kapashera that they were living in. 

We started posing questions around what made them migrate, the memory of the place(s) they come from, the conditions of work, where they think the garments they manufactured went, and where the material they stitched came from? We used the agrarian cadastral map of Kapashera as a base for this cartography. Taking away the power over land symbolically from the powerful male landowners and giving it to the most marginalised women migrants in the community.

In this way, the project also helped us as artist to reflect on what socially-engaged art is and can do. In the next phase of the project, we are taking the tapestry and the women who have produced it across a variety of public spaces in Delhi, exposing them to a variety of public(s), institutions, and environments that makes up Delhi and its extended urban region.

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