Curating memories of confined spaces

This Delhi-based artist’s exhibition reflects on the puzzling sense of futility that has overshadowed people as a result of being self-isolated amid the pandemic
Works from the show ‘Within Confines‘ on display at the Studio Art Gallery. (File photo)
Works from the show ‘Within Confines‘ on display at the Studio Art Gallery. (File photo)

Every object in my home is close to me; it has a reflection and meaning—it reflects the time I have spent with them, and my relationship with them. It’s not just the objects but even the intimate domestic spaces, which hold memories and time,” shares Shivani Aggarwal (46), a visual artist from Sukhdev Vihar.

A collection of her works, exploring these intimate domestic spaces, is on display at the Studio Art Gallery, Okhla, Phase II, till February 28. Aggarwal’s show titled ‘Within Confines’ is an exploration of uncomfortable confines of the domestic space along with its everyday objects, which together “become metaphors of larger issues of gender and the human condition.” Focusing on the themes of nothingness and emptiness, these works—they were crafted amid the pandemic-induced lockdown—are a reflection of the mental and physical confinement felt by the artist during COVID-19.

“The pandemic was a time of quietude. Being within the walls, I was even more sensitive to the small spaces in my house that were vacant and unnoticed, the little corners, the forms they created, the forms I could see and create in those spaces.”

The array of artworks on display at this exhibition, which started on November 25 last year, can also be viewed virtually in the viewing room of the Studio Art Gallery website. Aggarwal mentions, “I have been involved with common everyday tools in my art practice—bending, enlarging, and twisting them as they depict memory, usage, function, and time. They are [for me] symbols of functionality, from personal to political or societal standpoints; they remain constantly challenged, twisted, distorted, broken, or perverted for convenience and greed.”

The creases I Iron’
The creases I Iron’

The social animal
A few might comment on the therapeutic nature of this exhibition. Aggarwal, however, elaborates that while “the feeling of vast nothingness was almost divine as one could think freely without having to run around in our otherwise busy lives”; there is also a prevalent sense of hopelessness that looms over every piece. Using the art of stitching and crocheting in her creations, the artist highlights that threads in her works represent the confining nature of societal, political, and gender stereotypes that each of us are bound to function within, lest we be termed outcasts. “The thread here becomes an element, which defines these boundaries. In my works, threads mark a territory defining emptiness, whether it is sewed on a canvas as a box or a mesh or crocheted into a sculptural trap. The thread symbolises the social fibre, which confines,” she adds.

A study of self
Aggarwal’s sculpture ‘How do I Measure’ is a large wooden tape measure; she effectively transforms this daily object into a “futile and ambitious” entity that measures nothing. The tape is punctuated at intervals with intangible emotions such as ‘Truth’, ‘Love’, and ‘Intimacy’. Each of these, she mentions, is a sort of paradox that brings to light the futility of a human being’s struggle to put into tangible numbers the feelings that surround us. In a similar manner, her piece, ‘The creases I Iron’, explores the fusillade of thoughts that bombard an anxious mind. “The work talks about how we erase unwanted things and process our thoughts by literally ironing them out of our fabric in our vacant empty space and time,” Aggarwal explains.

‘Within Confines’ is a beautiful exploration of the profound sense of nothingness that humans as social animals have been facing as a result of the pandemic. Restricting her work to her personal space, Aggarwal tries to comprehend the frustrations of confinement while, at the same time, feeling the relief of being able to detach oneself from the everyday rat race.

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The New Indian Express