Home is a loaded word. It stands not just for brick-and-mortar structures but also for a range of experiences and emotions. As “Dwelling”, the tenth anniversary group exhibition of Mumbai’s Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke shows, home could mean belonging or rejection, shelter or prison, comfort or strife and, it could also refer to people and objects, real or imaginary structures and landscapes and abstract concepts such as the nation state.
In the exhibition guide to the first part of the show, which ran from November 11, 2016, to January 11, 2017, curator Ranjit Hoskote had asked, “What does it mean to form habitations and communities; to craft accommodation both in a spiritual and a pragmatic manner; to develop an ethic of neighbourhood in an age of uncertainty and violence? What is home to the citizen, and to the refugee?”
The second part of the show, which opens on Thursday, continues to engage with these questions through the works of 12 of the gallery’s artists, among them Dayanita Singh, Ratheesh T, Abir Karmakar and Kiki Smith.
The curatorial premise for “Dwelling” comes from German philosopher, Martin Heidegger’s 1951 essay Building Dwelling Thinking. Heidegger had joined the Nazi Party when it was on the rise and never publicly expressed regret for the actions of Nazi Germany. Due to this, the thinker was forbidden from teaching or publishing his writings for six years after the Second World War ended. Building Dwelling Thinking was the first essay he wrote after being allowed to come out of exile.
“It is an essay that I first read in 1988, when I was in college and it has been with me since then,” says Hoskote, “There was a period when I couldn’t bring myself to read Heidegger because of his politics, but if you read the essay with the knowledge of who the writer is and what he had done, you can see him attempting to understand a society that accommodated diversity, instead of rejecting it. This is a theme that resonates today. There is an openness in the world now, even as we struggle to come to terms with the ‘other’.”
The 24 artists (in Part I and II), when presented with the essay, responded with enthusiasm. This, says gallerist Ranjana Steinruecke, comes down to the fact that the theme went beyond being just a brief, and actually connected to concerns that had already cropped up in the works of the 24 artists.
In Part I, one of the artists was Tanya Goel, whose practice involves using materials from construction sites to create the pigments with which she made meticulous grids. These grids could be seen as works that memorialise the very materials that make up a dwelling. Gieve Patel’s Eklavya, on the other hand, went into the question of communal exclusion, while Atul Dodiya’s Koodal was at once an homage to Tyeb Mehta and a critique of a nation divided.
In Part II, there is Ratheesh T’s Amma, an oil on canvas that, with warmth and humour, recalls to the viewer the dynamics of the most fundamental relationship of a home. Dayanita Singh’s Time Measures, as Steinruecke points out, recalls the idea of nomadism and how little it takes to set up a home.
Abir Karmakar’s Abandonment of all that is Rational: Daybreak is in the same vein as the work he showed at the recent Kochi Muziris Biennale. If the work in Kochi situated the viewer in a domestic environment to investigate the idea of home, the work in Mumbai — with its view of the Arabian Sea — wonders if the idea of dwelling can be located in a wider geographical setting.