There’s an
elephant in
the room

Master’s Diploma Show, HEAD Geneva

∼10 minutes


MATERIALAcrylic Sheets, Wood, MDF, Acrylic Paint, Video 

PROJECT ASSISTANCEPallavi Keshri, Joseph Curle, Luna Deleani, Maude Renevier

Rita Hajj, Joseph Popper 

Exploration of the intersection & tension between the identity of the oppressed & the oppressor using the elements of language & hierarchy. It uses the overarching theme of the persistence of language, that the designer does not consider hers. With the help of fiction, in her first phase of the project, she uses four voices to express some of her identity positions. 
    It is a stew of layers representing a part of the designer’s mélange of her nature, experiences, critique and observations. Recognising that everyone is influenced by the institutions they encounter, it becomes reasonable to cultivate compassion for all individuals, considering this perspective.
    Her upbringing in a military household, with its enduring colonial legacy, & her exposure to the hierarchy of the military, caste system & gender politics have deeply influenced her language in oral, body & fashion aspects, reflecting a lingering colonial & institutional influence. She acknowledges the significant roles hierarchy & the imposition of a non-native language play in shaping her identity.
    Starting with self-inquiry & introspection, this initial presentation serves as a foundation to understand the complexities of an intersectional identity & the short and long term impacts of historical and present-day narratives and events on individual identities.
Oppressed and Oppressor mindmap
Identity positions of the designer
Installation in a view
Includes two hand-painted installations, two GIF montages and the performer-designer (not-in-view) 
The installation-performance consists of five elements – two visual GIF montages, two hand-painted text installations & the designer herself. The four characters include a smart housewife, a puppet, a wanderer & water.

The designer’s realisation of speaking Hinglish (a macaronic hybrid of Hindi & English) & using the Latin script to write in Hindi leads to the use of Devanagari script to write English in text installations. This serves a dual purpose of reclaiming her contaminated mother tongue, Hindi and critiquing Hindi & English, her first & second language as languages associated with fascists & colonisers, respectively. 

 The two visual GIF montages work with the characters of a smart housewife & puppet.

 The designer, as the fifth element, unifies all the other elements into coherence. She acts as a conduit, delivering & embodying the four characters through oral performances of their texts.

Handpainted installation no. 1: Character of wanderer
Due to its scale & layers, the text composition is interpreted in a different form from different viewpoints, working as a metaphor for a layered identity & its perception. The composition is painted on several layers of transparent PVC sheets & distanced from each other to bring another dimension to an otherwise flat piece of typography, hence, working as an artefact.
Handpainted installation no. 2: Character of water
The typography style are inspired by hand-painted store signage, as a medium to advertise the designer’s identity positions, just like the store signage do. 

I look
I wave
I lend a hand and a shoulder.
I break a leg too, sometimes.
But that is all.
My words are not words, 
they are static blaring in a void.
Their words are white noise.
Our lips form strange shapes, 
make unintelligible sounds. 
I am unintelligible, 
born among them but not quite their own.
There must be a mistake. 
I travel across the ocean, searching
deserts, forests, mountains
for a voice,my voice.
Then, one day
I hear light.
Words like diamonds lustrous 
with meaning. Words like worship
of a diamond goddess in
a glass case.
My belonging,
is on display.
I am blue glitter on a yellow day, 
I am joy and laughter. 
On the other side, I am a purifier, 
an elixir sent by gods to cure darkness.
Mysterious, magical, holy, carrying the weight of prayers, 
offerings, scattered ashes and duty.

I must distinguish high from low. 
I must protect myself from lowly touch, contamination, 
from rivers of lowly blood on my hallowed banks. 
I must never clean lowly steel from a lowly kitchen, 
or fill a lowly glass from a lowly home.

I am eternal, 
flowing to a shimmering future
with sediments of an eternal past. 
I become while continuing to be.

You are not like me.

If only you could do what I can, 
be and become, without fault lines.

But your world is not your own, 
your words are not your own, 
they are borrowed from other worlds 
and other tongues. 
They make an other language 
and an other you, 
suspended in an other life.

I turned 21 recently
Freshly out of university
I was looking for a job. 
My parents were looking for a boy. 
I found the job. 

It is the colour on my forehead, 
in the parting of my hair,
on the garment draping my body. 
It is the colour of my new job, 
the one I was always meant to do.

The requirements are simple,
I must please by serving delicacies
I don’t yet know how to conjure,
I did not train for this, but I can improvise. 

Red is how I please.
Tomatoes, juicy like plums, sweet like strawberries, 
tart like apples, red like the dot on my forehead, 
meeting onions and ginger and garlic
creating new life everywhere, 
transfiguring potatoes to dum aloo
chicken to kadhai murg
mince to keema masala
eggs to anda curry
red kidney beans to rajma
lentils to dal tadka.

I was green once, blue
pink and orange and
violet and yellow. I am
red now, only
red forevermore.

Character of smart housewife
The women depicted are drawn from museums, famous artworks, & film, symbolising the ideal Indian woman with features like pale skin, traditionally associated with a ‘good’ & ‘respected’ woman. 
North Indian cuisine, often reduced to just ‘curry’, relies heavily on tomatoes, a result of colonisation, brought in by the Portuguese & imposed by the British.

Character of puppet
It is inspired by the designer’s upbringing by her parents based in the Indian Army, an institution still deeply rooted in its colonial past. These include portraits of Queen Victoria (under whose rule India was colonised), toast (popular British and Indian military breakfast), use of cutlery (contrasting with Indian hand-eating tradition), English gardens (common in army cantonments) & the marching soldier (societal obedience & conditioning).

The Queen is here, 
she rules a banquet in my dreams, 
she says food must never be chewed 
with one’s mouth open, 
it isn’t civilized. 
She looks at my hands 
dipped in dal, 
gathering rice in a ball of joy, 
and her brows
rise up, up, up, into her hair until
my fingers are forks
and knives slipping
and sliding on steel.

The Queen is here, 
she pulls the strings of the waking world.
She soars across the ocean 
as her children, 
birds of fine feathers and stolen gold.
The waking world spins on a teaspoon, 
drinks promises from a teacup.

The Queen is here, 
she sits on my shoulder, 
watching her words dance on my tongue,
her traditions gloat on my table. 
I am two worlds, 
I am collision, 
I am inherited chaos.