In fleeting moments

The exhibition’s standout feature – its focus on objects – highlights personal belongings rather than the usual portraiture associated with refugee documentation.
In fleeting moments

BENGALURU: What is home? Is it the four walls and a roof? Or is it the trinkets and polaroid pictures you decorate it with? What embodies a home could mean different things for different people – but one thing remains constant – home is safety. But for thousands of refugees across the world, home is a word that cannot be defined as easily.

To give us a sense of this transience, researcher and writer Dilpreet Bhullar, will be showcasing A Home in the Constant Flux: A Call to the Verb Memory, a photo series exhibition that delves deep into the lived experiences of refugees. The exhibition, curated by museologist Manan Shah, captures the transient nature of refugees’ existence through a unique visual narrative.

“The idea for the series was sown when I was doing my research on Rohingya refugees,” says Bhullar. While she did her research, she identified a gap in the visual representation and narration of their stories. This gap inspired her to create a body of work that not only documents but also dignifies the experiences of refugees.

“When I was working on this piece about the Rohingya refugees, I found myself imagining what I would like to see as an artist if I was on the other side of the spectrum – the intentions and the visual language that would resonate with me,” explains Bhullar, who hesitates to label herself an artist. This introspection led to the creation of the series of 36 photographs.

The project evolved through interactions with refugees who are currently living in New Delhi and Jammu Kashmir. “I am obliged to so many people, families who opened their homes and hearts to narrate their story. Most of these interactions were full of surprises and serendipitous in nature which kept me moving with the project for more than two and half years,” says Bhullar.

Central to Bhullar’s work is the use of cyanotype, a photographic printing process that produces images in Prussian blue. This technique, historically used for architectural blueprints and geological documentation, becomes a metaphor for the fluid and often precarious lives of refugees. By layering archival maps over digital images of personal objects collected from these refugee homes, Bhullar captures the interplay between memory and materiality. “Both maps and objects defy the inherent notion of permanency because as citizens become refugees due to multiple reasons, their identity as the political selves slips into in-betweenness,” she says.

The exhibition’s standout feature – its focus on objects – highlights personal belongings rather than the usual portraiture associated with refugee documentation. “In 2017, when the infamous massacre of the community in Myanmar flooded the news and simultaneously in Europe we were watching incoming refugees from Syria, Africa on rickety boats, crossing the barbed wires, the surge of visuals overpowered me,” says Bhullar, adding, “I was reminded of a photo-essay by American woman photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White published as a visual response to the 1947 Partition. And I realised the visual language of documenting the refugees has not witnessed a change from then to present-day photojournalists.”

Bhullar shifts the narrative from mere survival to one of memory and identity. These objects, imbued with personal and political histories, serve as tangible links to the refugees’ pasts. “The longshots, the top shots, noise-affected faces of the refugees came across as an act of intrusion on the part of the photojournalists. No one was keen to know what happened to the refugees. The objects allow them to share personal anecdotes that inevitably tie into the broader political history of their displacement,” reflects Bhullar.

(The exhibition will be on from May 25, 2pm to May 26 8pm at Bangalore International Centre, Domlur)

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The New Indian Express