As a child, Vadodara-based artist Krupa Makhija rejoiced listening to stories from her mother of legends from Sindh, including fables based on the philosophy of Watayo Faqir, often told to children at ‘kachehris’ or traditional gatherings, and tales of Sindhi singer and sufi poet Bhagat Kanwar Ram.
She would be told about her ancestors’ large havelis, most of whom were big landlords, and objects that bore a strong foothold in Sindhi culture — be it the surmai daani that contained kohl or surahi, used to store water. She considered them means to connect with her Sindhi roots, and the memories have stayed with her since. Some of the recollections have inspired her exhibition titled “An Amnesiac’s Memory” at Art District XIII in the Capital.
“My parents migrated from the Sindh province of Pakistan during the Partition in 1947. I belong to the first generation of my family to be born in India. I do not know much about my cultural roots and cannot speak my own language. I grew up with stories of pre-Partition era and these experiences have transformed into the many works; I look at them as questions raised by me regarding my cultural roots, identity and language,” says Makhija, 31.
In the work For After Amnesia, for instance, she attempts at exploring notions of incomplete resettlements and incomplete identity. She has collected traditional objects — surmai daani, surahi and sarota, used to split supari — that are gradually disappearing from our contemporary lives. She has split them into two halves and embedded them within cement casts shaped in the form of a house.
Winner of Glenfiddich’s Emerging Artist of the Year 2015 award, the artist spent more than a year conceptualising this show.
Witnesses II, an interactive light installation is made using a large board spread across the wall. It comprises old electric switches and old family photographs collected from flee markets across India. By clicking on a few working switches, the frames of the black and white photographs light up in shades of pink and green. “My parents left everything in Sindh and came with nothing except the clothes they were wearing. They have nothing to pass on to future generations. I don’t have any photographs to see, unlike others who have family photographs and inherit objects.”
The political heroes of Sindh are honoured in the series Lost Stories, that features distorted faces of freedom fighters from the Sindh region, including revolutionary and freedom fighter Hemu Kalani, who played a pivotal role during the freedom struggle. The Sindhi script accompanying the photographs tells tales of their heroic deeds and has been blurred by the artist, to give it an impression of disappearing. “Everyone knows about Shaheed Bhagat Singh, but no one really knows about Kalani because the Sindhi language is dying fast and due to that, we are losing these stories.”
For Makhija, the aim of the show is simple. “What I am facing currently and the questions I am posing through the show are not about me or my community, but a problem of every community in the contemporary world. My aim is to encourage people to develop interest in their own roots, language and cultural background,” says the artist.
The exhibition is on at Art District XIII till September 5.