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Radical Housing and Socially-Engaged Art

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“Art is the indispensable means for merging of the individual with the whole. It reflects their infinite capacity for association, for sharing experiences and ideas.” 

– Ernst Frisch (Khirkee Voice, An ode to Amateurs, January 2022)

In the course of thinking through this particular piece, what emerged as the heart of our concern was connection. Or rather the connectedness-of-things as opposed to connection per se, as governing the logic patterns of our actions. 

I feel like the three artists I’ve picked to work with in this article each represent the ways in which they have responded differently to this coming into realisation of the connectedness-of-things. Here we’re not even looking at connection as teleology, but simply the truth of the connectedness-of-things as it exists with or without our awareness of it. But if we pay attention, there seems to be a gravitational quality to it that anchors a lot of the movements that we make. 

The experience of our residency being situated in Khirkee has been seminal in opening us up to that realisation and I suspect that it is very closely tied to the experience of something new. 

This is evident in the ways that the artists are branching out and activating a sense of community consciousness that they are in turn infusing into their art making processes in a journey of opening up. 

This is especially evident in the case of Moumita and Yash, different in the way that Richa’s works have always had an element of a more collective rural female experience. Her stunning metal sculptures assume a flatness this time around though they have increased in scale. 

Moumita’s work prior to this has been quite lonesome and introspective, exploring as she did the experience of the defamiliarized village environment- of what was once home- after her move to and return from the city to find that things didn’t feel quite the same anymore. Her images consisted of her lone self in various states of boredom, ennui and solitary contemplation. 

Yash’s practice has also always been an intensely personal one, dealing with the subject of memory as he grapples with the threat of Alzheimer’s as a hereditary condition that runs in his family. 


“Where I come from is a village, Madhya Srirampur in West Bengal where people are very simple. I don’t find that we are very complicated people especially when it comes to maintaining community values, and helping each other out. But when I visited here, I got to see a lot of new things. 

When I arrived, I came in not knowing what to expect beyond the knowledge that it was going to be an entirely new experience for me. This is my first time in Delhi. And I had to manage everything by myself, from materials to my work, etc.  

Within the gates of Khoj, I feel safe but once you step out of its bounds, it’s a completely different experience. There is a quality of suspicion in the air. No one gives out information freely. There was tenseness in the expressions of people. 

Everyone lives together in such close quarters and yet I feel like there is a lack of connection between households. 

It was hard for me to find someone to talk to. But then I met one girl who was Muslim. She goes to college. Which is why I think she spoke to me, freely. She told me that there is a community problem- of self segregation. For instance, Hindus will buy only from Hindu shops, Muslims from Muslim shops. I was completely unaware of this until I stepped into the reality of the neighbourhood and began engaging with them. This realization touched something in me. It could be because back in my village in WB, I live in a village that is predominantly inhabited by a Hindu community which is why my experience has been so different and this unsettles me. 

Khirki : The Stitched Narratives by Moumita Basak (Peers 2022)

It’s a completely different thing to experience things first hand than to read about it in books or watch it in movies. 

So I’m thinking that I’ll make figures based on this. Depicted in community specific dress, to convey that sense of segregation. This is usually not my style of working. But being that I find myself in a new city, different experience, I thought why not let that show and explore it in my work. But at the same time, due to time constraints, I was unable to delve deeper into things. You cannot really experience a lot in a matter of just a couple of days. 

However, there is one question that sticks with me. The idea that people are going to pose this question to me. The question of who is responsible for this state of affairs? 

That is not something that I can speak about. I don’t want to speak about it. But there is a tacit understanding that exists, that on some level, every single one of us is culpable. And there’s just not one reason. There are many. One can say that everyone has a role to play in the way that things have shaped up. 

I’m thinking that I should also add the image of children in this. Because kids learn what they see.”


“I met a lady in the neighbourhood who works at a garment factory who does stitching all day. She’s the sole earner. She earns 8000 rupees per month and pays 30 rupees in total for transport everyday. On top of life being generally hard, people like her have no other choice but to go back home and maintain their homes after really gruelling days at the workplace. There are no off days. But she has hopes for the future of her daughters. She told me that she is self conscious and embarrassed about bringing people over to her home because it’s not “presentable”. 

There was another lady from Khirkee that I met. When I entered her house, I was assaulted by the stench emanating from the inside of her home. The conditions under which she’s living seemed very dangerous for her health and well being. In that little ill ventilated room was also her old mother living with her. It’s almost like this stale lifeless existence. She’s come to the city full of hopes only to have her struggles doubled. Survival is hard. 

And that is the common reality of so many people living within Khirkee. They have to fit their existence into such little spaces. Essentially squeezing their hopes and dreams into these tiny little congested spaces.”


“When we first went to old Delhi, I really loved seeing the old structures of the houses there. What stood out to me was the balconies that we saw on these houses. We used to have balconies in our old houses too. But now because of rapid urbanisation, balconies are mostly considered as a waste of space. In modern contemporary houses, even though there are balconies, they are really just square cubicles. Especially coming from Gujarat, we have a lot of influence from Mughal architecture. So we have peacock motifs, parrots, we have columns, we have brackets. So what I essentially wanted to do was celebrate the structure in all of its beauty. I didn’t want to make it mundane.

Also the word “balcony” in English is such a boring word whereas in Gujarati, it’s called “zarukho”. It’s a very sweet word and poems have been written about it. We have memories of our parents spending time there, I remember my girlfriend waving to me from the balcony, even William Shakespeare has romanticised the idea of balcony through Romeo and Juliet. And I wanted to celebrate this older structure which is under-appreciated, which is demolished now.

What I also wanted to do was take into account other people’s memories, which I’ve never done before. I wanted to listen to their experiences, listen to their stories. 

So I went around Khirkee and met a lot of very interesting people. 

I began doing these sketches in the process but I’m short on time so I don’t know how many more I’ll be able to do. Because it takes time for me to get to that point of connection with them too. I can’t just go up to them and ask them to tell me their stories. The conversation we had with Thukral and Tagra resonates with this. They pointed out the very transactional quality that characterises these types of exchanges  between people of a community sharing information with researchers or artists like us. And I agree. If at the very least you are not making the conversation fun for them, they’re not getting any money, they’re not getting any exposure, it’s not going into their portfolios, why would they feel inclined to talk to us? But at the same time, I am aware that art goes beyond the four walls of this studio and gallery space and it is important to celebrate people and the lives that they live. 

(Referring to his sketches)

This woman is called Lakshmi. Her fondest memory of the balcony is to water her plants. She cannot have children. So her plants are her children. She sings to them, she talks to them. 

This other sketch for instance. His dad was not emotionally available for him. Yet his fondest memory of the balcony is that of his dad smoking hookah. This guy was not a smoker but in lieu of spending more time with his dad later on in life, he started smoking. Now his dad is no more, and he still sits on the same balcony and smokes there. 

Here’s another sketch. This is Sulaiman chacha. He loves bird watching from his balcony. I have never watched birds but he does. So I get to live that practice out for a moment through him. 

I don’t think that it’s possible for me to experience every single human emotion there is, so when I interact with other people in this way, is when I think I come close to being able to do that vicariously.”