The house came alive briefly, this time hosting artists with their curator. A hub of conversation and activity, the opening of long shut windows, roshan daans and doors made 11 Temple Road come alive. The curation is almost the most intriguing aspect of this exhibition, as the house itself is what the artists were requested to respond to. Fatma Shah, the curator, held conversations and conducted visits to 11 Temple Road over a period of one year. Originally owned by Mr. Ved Mehta’s family, this elegant bungalow in pre-Partition Lahore stands whitewashed and welcoming in a shady lane in the heart of Lahore. In 1947 it offered refuge to the relocated Hasan family from Panipat, while the original owners, the Mehtas, were granted property across the newly carved border. Poignantly two thaalis remain in the house bearing the Mehta family initials. Fatma Shah plans and hopes to return them to their rightful owners across the border.
Responding to the stories around simple objects, furniture and the trappings of life then, and relating them to everyday life in our present was the catalyst for this thought-provoking, emotive exhibition. Often these objects were mundane and disregarded. In the journey undertaken at 11 Temple Road, they transformed into something infinitely precious. The ordinary became extraordinary; be they fitted shelves, an old refrigerator, porcelain, kitchen utensils or tinsel garlands. Each artist interacted with the house and its contents and began to imagine their own narratives, reacting to different rooms and different objects, developing their individual monologues. The abandoned space allowed their imaginations to rethink the myriad lives that the house has witnessed. In their sensitive and emotional response to 11 Temple Road, we can all trace our collective memories of such houses that live in our common imagination. This is the visual and tactile history of our fractured past with India and our colonial history.
Originally built as a duplex for two Mehta family members, the central courtyard shaded by a mango tree is today truncated in half. Its halved structure silently underscores the fate of United Punjab, pre-1947. Juxtaposed against this history is an embroidered map of a whole India, discovered in the house, lovingly worked on post-Partition, still showing a united country.
Sahyr Saeed skillfully combines homage to the old and the new in her acrylic framed boxes facing the old glass cabinet. While the contents of the cabinet are pairras made from flour, the piercings, the flowers and the stand out forms in the acrylic boxes speak of a newer more modern aesthetic. The flour pairras chronicle the passing of time, growing caked and hard, while the still arrangements in the boxes remain new-looking. This division speaks of how in the age of plastic the inorganic appears appealing and shiny, while the organic rapidly loses its appeal, colour and texture. This raises the question whether we should value the old out of nostalgia or even as a guilty keepsake of memories, honouring age and sentimental associations. Lessons in cosy domesticity may be viewed through the lenses of charm and quaintness but also through the lens of retrogression. Imrana Tanvir effectively uses the unstitched pieces of garments, as an unfinished story, in whose ending we may be certain, there’s no happily ever after. The ceaseless stitching in her video points to the hard, often overlooked labour behind a smoothly run home. While Ahsan Memon continues this theme of nostalgia, a yearning for a rose tinted past, in his resin coated parcels of shopping, his flattened metal sculpture of household containers is violent and in the
hard dividing line Mr. Radcliffe comes to mind, as he does with Tanvir’s separated piles of white cloths. It is no surprise therefore to see this sculpture is hung on the dividing wall of the courtyard. Continuing the theme of land, maps and territories disrupted and etched into new unforgiving patterns, Saba Qizilbash’s images of spaces also underline truncated, chopped off views of the past. Here there is less sentimentality, but the atmosphere of what might have been, rests solidly in these images.
With wry humour Affan Baghpatti shows us a maulvi’s head clamped in a sirauta, a nut-cracker, all encased in a special cabinet. His use of varied objects brought into a surprising composite whole, makes us re-imagine these objects anew. Also evoking the battle cry of religion is the green plastic prayer caps and the prayer mat in welded iron by Maheen Niazi. Both wit and perhaps resignation are at play here, while the time we live in is reflected in the material of these caps, which used to be cotton but is now plastic. However, the darker undercurrent in Maheen Niazi’s work is the rigid iron prayer mat, the unreadable metal book and the caps blocking out the light. This is a nod to the inextricable conjoining of culture and belief systems that prevail in our society.
Playing with scale Farrukh Addnan’s sensitive miniatures are composed with the faintest of marks and delicate washes. Their mark making corresponds to his mark making on the large canvas mirroring the exposed bricks of the house. The armature lying beneath the outer skin of structures is where the artist’s fascination lies. Sana Saeed’s carefully observed surfaces capture the relationship between time, people and objects. Their presence seems tangible, yet because they are in this particular space, we remain aware this is the past.
Nisha Hasan and Dua Abbas both created their installations in the built-in shelf units found in two of the rooms. Hasan’s miniature white Mary Jane school shoes flung higgledy-piggledy in the shelves, seem to echo with the voices of those faraway little girls, whose school still functions despite Partition. This particular story has a happy ending because families reached out to each other, ignoring politics. But the line so arbitrarily drawn by Mr. Radcliffe remains an open wound for many. The shelves arranged so carefully by Dua Abbas are an ode to a time when sentiment ruled the day. Perhaps the world was simply more innocent. The filling of the family photo album was a lovingly performed duty; the knick-knacks that families accumulated, carried with them stories of where and who had bought them. They adorned embroidered doilies or tray cloths stitched at home. The careful housekeepers of that age seem to be extolled in this installation. These arrangements seem familiar to us. Again, the reason for this is that all these objects litter and dot our collective past. These shelves, their contents, the silently swaying garlands, even the emerald-coloured walls are all our rooms in all our houses of a past that has surely slipped away.
The author is an artist and teaches at NCA, Lahore