WHAT DO WE OWE
TO EACH OTHER?
A Workshop / Case Study / MFA Thesis / Work In Progress
This project takes the form of an inclusionary space of belonging for a transitional community of difference.
Here anybody who identifies as a person of colour or otherwise, is invited to celebrate their difference and engage in conversation in order to widen our understanding of how we can be in this world together with an intent of care. This space values lived experience, personal rituals, traditions and anecdotes. Aiming to provide a place for our feelings to occupy space and be made visible, through the form of storytelling which in turn is able to generate new forms of knowledge.
The most anti-capitalist protest is to care for another and to care for yourself. To take on the historically feminized and therefore invisible practice of nursing, nurturing, caring. To take seriously each other’s vulnerability and fragility and precarity, and to support it, honor it, empower it. To protect each other, to enact and practice community. A radical kinship, an interdependent sociality, a politics of care. (Johanna Hedva)
‘Radical Care’ is a need, an urge and a desperation for us to be present with one another - paying attention, listening, nurturing and growing our interpersonal connections. It places emphasis on human relationships to ask what we could we be doing differently? The crisis or societal sickness of our time, calls for a reassessment of where we place value in order to construct an alternate reality. Through this inherent critique creating a new economy of care that doesn’t just privilege working bodies.
The argument is not so much that we don’t care at all, but rather that we care selectively. Avishai Margalit in his book the Ethics of Memory dissects how care functions differently among thick and thin relations, stating that we are more likely to care about our thick relations such as our parents but are less likely to expend that same energy for strangers. This practice asks how one can prompt an act of care among strangers?
I attempted to make one such space of belonging through the formulation of a workshop that asked the question ‘What Do We Owe to Each Other?’ This took place at the Ground Floor Art Centre, a student run studio space in the heart of Chinatown. I inhabited space in a mostly abandoned mall for a period of three days, for six hours each day. Here I played the role of a host that would care for visitors; offering soup and clay with the intention of slowing down and being present in order to facilitate conversations and listen to each other’s narratives.
Enveloped in wafts of jasmine and faint old hindi music, visitors were presented with an offering - a ball of clay wrapped in fabric. This was for them to exercise an act of care for themselves or for someone in their lives, which could then be left in the space or taken with them to keep or to further gift. What I asked in return was for them to share the story of what they made, in their own language on the wall using ink and a paintbrush.
People were welcomed into the space by a poem on the wall, that situated my position in relation to the space;
I am the daughter of a shopkeeper
The store came into his life
the same time that I did
All we had was a rack of clothes
And an old radio for company
The shutters rumbled
open every morning
Subtle wafts of jasmine lingered
from his morning prayers
After school on most days
You could find me in his chair
Tending to customers
making big deals I could not honour
This was where
I learnt to be a caretaker
Here, I’ll make another offer
Where we are now
Is from me for you
An exercise in turning
to one another
Making visible our stories
Enveloped in a warm embrace
Such material exploration has the potential to account for and document oral narratives and personal journeys. Clay and its malleability helps access the complex associations we make within the structures of memory, by allowing a dialogue between the tangibility and intangibility of embodied knowledge. As a medium it is intuitive and can be accessed by people of varying skill levels, with an ability to document any hesitation or struggle to communicate with each attempt at manipulating the material. Such active alterations in the process of remembering and making allow these objects to share the meaning and power from our personal experiences. With each recall, participants reconstruct bits and pieces of memory along with their imagination, fabricating and calling attention to different facets each time.
The object left behind then holds traces of the person that created it, and can hold space for them. When gifted or given away these objects hold the memory of the person that made it for the receiver, in that way imbedding these lumps of clay with meaning and power.
The soup was a collective effort of Annie Canto and Molly Marineau, new friends and colleagues that have quickly proved to me how easy it is to care if only we tried. Providing sustenance to others, especially on cold and rainy days was the best way I could think of to welcome guests into the space. This served as an invitation to slow down and spend some time, drinking soup while contemplating care. On day one we served a not-so-green lentil soup, day two a potato-leek and turnip soup and my personal favourite on day three, the pumpkin soup. Each soup was accompanied by an ingredient list for the visitor to recreate if they so wished.
We navigate this world with the use of a shared language, a tool for communication that on the surface unifies us as thinking and feeling bodies. Having studied in an English medium school for majority of my education in an indian context, I find it crucial to contemplate the role of language as it is used, and the power or agency that it can either afford or absolve for those that employ it. The space provided an opportunity for participants to share a glimpse into their writing styles, and for people to express themselves in their own language which produced at once a secret and a strong bond between people that spoke the same language.