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Through a museum,23-yr-old wants Ahmedabad to talk about its conflicts

She was 12 when the 2002 riots hit Ahmedabad,but those days,says Avni Sethi,still remain etched in her memory.

Written by RituSharma |
March 24, 2013 2:09:53 am

She was 12 when the 2002 riots hit Ahmedabad,but those days,says Avni Sethi,still remain etched in her memory. Struck by the “culture of silence”,the trained kathak dancer and designer has now put together what’s the first “participatory” museum of conflict in the city.

“‘Conflictorium’,with its tagline ‘keep talking’,aims to encourage people to discuss conflicts in a healthy manner rather than brushing these incidents under the carpet by simply refusing to talk about them,” says the 23-year-old. It gives the residents a medium to communicate,understand and express their internal conflicts,she adds.

Sethi saw riots very closely as her father Gagan Sethi is a well-known name among the riot-hit and socially deprived,providing them psychological,financial and legal help through his organisation Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). She calls the museum,scheduled to be inaugurated in April,the product of her search for something different,while reflecting her experiences growing up.

The museum will house interactive artefacts and installations dating back to 1960. Ahmedabad saw its first major riot in 1969.

What is unique about the project though is that it invites people to share their personal history of conflict. “One of the rooms will be full of empty fish bowls where people can just walk in and drop artefacts,including pictures. The idea came from an incident where one day a middle-aged woman wanted to give her broken glass bangles,” says Sethi,who completed her interdisciplinary design course from Bangalore’s Srishti School of Art,Design and Technology.

Even the building where the museum is coming up has its own story. ‘Gool Lodge’,once owned by a Parsi woman—who was incidentally Ahmedabad’s first hair stylist—is located in the walled city neighbourhood of Mirzapur,where Muslims,Hindus,Parsis and Christians live together. Right outside the building is a dargah while a few yards away is a Sai Baba temple.

The daughter and father accept that coming up with the project in the sensitive area wasn’t easy. “Initially,we were sceptical of the location but eventually things fell in place,” said Gagan Sethi.

The history of Gool Lodge’s owner Bacchuben Nagarwala itself was a motivating factor. The museum will tackle the traditional vs modern conflict quite the same way she did. One of the corners right beside the staircase has a glitzy mirror with several fish bowls hanging from the ceiling. These have Nagarwala’s items that she used in her parlour,from hair pins,scissors and old,broken spectacles to a wrist watch.

While the building is being renovated,it will keep the original Parsi architecture as well as retain the presence of Nagarwala. Two rooms will house some of her possessions,including old wooden chairs,a cot and a small wooden cupboard.

There will be guided tours for communities as well as live performances in the museum. The content and programming will be community friendly and multilingual with recorded audio inputs to guide the visitors. The museum will also have a library and a legal aid centre.

At the “sorry tree”,people can walk in and leave a message for anybody they wish to apologise to.

Sethi aspires to even have the food served at her café linked to her concept of conflict. Such as the meat samosa,she says. While samosas are a popular snack in Gujarat,that character changes when these get a non-vegetarian filling,she explains.

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