Working around memories

Working around memories


Like her recent exhibition in New Delhi, at the Creativity Art Gallery in Hauz Khas, where she created an intimate space using wardrobes, mirrors, photographs, garments and other items of personal use to recreate the memories of an 84-year-old British woman who grew up in India and settled down with an Indian doctor. It is the lives of the ordinary people that intrigue Anwita, and it is their memories that she wishes to capture in biographies and thus document the times in history.

“It was as a part of my Master’s course in textile design at the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London that I came up with the concept of working around memories,” revealed Anwita as we met over coffee to discuss her work.

“I was visiting second hand book shops, garment shops and antique shops in the streets of London to pick up textures when one day I came across this old man who wanted a photograph taken with his grandchildren, to be preserved as memory. It got me interested and I did some research into work being done around memories. It led me to reminiscence therapy and I volunteered with the Dulwich Old Age Helpline and worked with the elderly who were suffering from dementia. Every week, we would get a group of elderly people together and make them talk about their old days. We used games, old photographs, old postcards etc to trigger off forgotten memories. That is how I thought of bringing memories into my work, of creating a space that the older generation can share with us.”

Walking into her exhibition in New Delhi, I, like the other visitors, was transported back to the days when as children we often used to rummage through our grandparents’ or parents’ wardrobes hoping to stumble upon some secret — personal items that could tell stories.

An old photograph here, a yellow-stained inland letter there, a transistor that has stopped working long ago, etc. Anwita’s exhibition was just like that and she aptly called it ‘Looking In Your Wardrobe’.

She created a space that resembled an attic or a small misty room with wardrobes installed. One can pull open the drawers and peep into the old photographs and other items lying there. A series of such installations built up the life of the old British lady, which also turned into a documentation of the kind of life led by a British woman who was born in 1927 in Chittagong (East Bengal), grew up in India and lived her life as the wife of an Indian doctor.

What is unique about this work is that she used a lot of stitches in the photographs, prints and garments. “I used the stitch and not embroidery or so,” explained Anwita, “Because it is symbolically significant. The stitch goes with the identity of a woman.

When we think of needle work in homes, it is the image of a woman that comes to mind. Hence, I have used the stitch to tell the story of a woman. For instance, the old British lady grew up in Mussourie and when she talked of those times, she nostalgically remembered how green it used to be.

In fact, she doesn’t like to visit Mussourie anymore because it is no longer that green. Hence, in the wardrobe installation of her childhood, I have stitched the colour green into the photographs and prints. Likewise, I have used other colours to project other memories in different phases.” 

Anwita draws inspiration for her technique from old books, old photographs and old clothes. “In London, there are these car booth sales when on Sunday mornings people come with household items stacked in their vans and sell them. I found the textures that I wanted from these old items — rusting and ageing items. I use techniques and chemicals to make certain items and texts pertinent to the narration look aged. For example, I use iron fillings in print and leave overnight for it to rust.” The text is very important to Anwita because her work is based on conversations.

Inspired by Tracy Emin’s confessional art that uses intimate details to tell stories and evoke emotions, Anwita wants to bring to India the idea that textile is but art which has innumerable human stories behind it.

She is passionate about crafts in the villages of India and as a long-term project, along with her photographer husband, would look into documenting the disappearing crafts and the narratives around them. At the moment, though, she is working on looking at the memories of Delhi during the 1970s and 1980s from the perspective of people in the streets — people who are now the elderly, whom she fondly calls the ‘Silver Generation’ and “our connection to the past”.

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