Marriage is one of the biggest forms of migration in India. This aspect of migration is so basal that one is confronted with the power of the statement only when it is spelt out. Chinmay Tumbe, who beautifully articulates it in his book India Moving: A History of Migration, will be one of the speakers at the Migration Museum coming Saturday. A one-day event by Godrej India Culture Lab, it will see a cross-section of artists and intellectuals share their views on migration. Scheduled to take place at their Vikhroli campus on June 8, it will feature a mix of films, performances, art, workshops, panel discussions and a masterclass.
However, while the easiest approach one can take to migration is presenting it through the regional lens, the Culture Lab team has put together an event that slices through the very core of migration to explore various aspects of it. So there is a screening of Mani Kaul’s Arrival, which examines migrant labour as a commodity. A students film by Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Ghutan investigates the subject of internal migration within Mumbai as a result of infrastructural projects undertaken by the state.
Poet, writer, translator and research scholar at the Department of English at Jamia Millia Islamia, Shalim Hussain will perform Miyah poetry, a form of protest poetry by Assamese Muslims of Bengali origin. The Lab will also be preparing some dishes from Mumbai Mobile Creche’s book Food Memories of Migrant Women, a compilation of recipes by the wives of migrant construction workers in Mumbai.
The final project of their summer leadership programme, held annually with college students, the Migration Museum was conceived by the participants. The Culture Lab head, Parmesh Shahani credits the students for putting together the idea while the format of a pop-up museum came from the Lab’s team. “This kind of programming is rooted in the idea of the lab. One of our earliest events, Museum of Memories was a breakthrough for us. We have since had several such events including Vikhroli Skin and the Partition Museum last year to mark 70 years of India. These events are beautiful but transient, and pretty much metaphoric of culture,” explains Shahani.
For Hussain, it was the fact that the North-East is often overlooked in the larger narrative of migration in India
that drew him to participate in the event. “The current politics of Assam is determined by migration but we choose to look at it only historically, as events. But what has it done to us? How has it impacted Assam culturally? These are some aspects that I want to talk about,” says the poet, who also belongs to the community of Bengali migrants.
The museum came together after extensive research. “Reena Kallat will be showcasing an installation of her book cover prints where she had created a woven map by tracing the routes of contract workers, indentured labour, asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants. Isn’t it amazing that so many books on migration use her art for their cover? By showing her covers, we will end up highlighting several books on the subject,” Shahani points out, adding that they did not want to explore the subject in terms of displacement alone but also look at aspects such as identity and citizenship.
Through some of the programming, such as Hussain’s performance, there is an engagement with politics and current affairs. Shahani explains that he understands the need to engage with politics today, more than ever before “but we would like to do so through art”.
About the transient nature of the museum, Shahani says, “In some ways it is like migration…we build it and let go. But what’s more important is that the physical form is what is lost but what really matters lives on — through pictures, videos and more importantly, the memories and everything we learn while putting it together.”