Āvarana (Fabric : Film)

(excerpt from “Āvarana”, 2011-2012, from the Shadow Film Series)
Solo Show at Watermans Centre, London in September 2012

In Hindi, the word ‘Āvarana’ is evocative of many meanings – sheath, overlay, screening, film. It refers to the layer of fabric with which we clothe ourselves as well as the filmic screen itself – that surface on which we see both our interior and exterior worlds; the within and without. For women in India the idea of fabric is synonymous with the saree –a length of unstitched cloth that women of the subcontinent drape around their bodies in various ways. The saree sheaths the body of many Indian women; it is a fundamental part of their everyday life. Each saree is unique to a woman and yet, universal at the same time.

This work is closely concerned with this fabric and with the geography of my home in India, my life and my family there. In this sense it is deeply personal – the piece evokes and distills my own identity, as a film-maker and a woman from India. It also fundamentally represents my family, in particular the generations of strong women I have admired as I have grown up.

Domestic spaces and rituals are a primarily female domain in India. They are arenas of potent meaning for me.  And they hold even more fascination because they are rarely spoken about or explored – they are accepted as an inherent part of the fabric of life in India. These spaces and rituals represent a ceaseless cycle and rhythm in my life that I have always moved to in a fundamentally instinctive way. The women of great significance in my life – my mother, grandmothers and aunts still hear the call of this beat, though we all move to it in our own ways.

I had never sought to understand or examine the meanings of these spaces and rhythms before. They were a fundamental part of my life that I never questioned. They were a part of a silent dialogue, a conversation between three generations of women in my family that stretched back to the roots of who we were. A conversation that was particular to us and yet simultaneously universal – to many women and their families across the country.

When I started living in London, I began to seek these meanings in a conscious way. As I moved out in a geographical sense, I began to move within on a metaphysical plane. I now pursue and examine these spaces and rhythms within the intellectual and formal structure of my practice as an artist.

The sun shines on the gridded tiles of my grandmother’s house near Pune. The lines are uniform and even. They grow even as they repeat: Like patterns on fabric, like the branches of a family tree.

Sometimes, the women of the house come up to the terrace to hang their washing out to dry. The sun shines down on the fabrics, even as the wind blows through them, carrying the whispers in their threads. Whose cloth hangs here? These sarees could belong to any of the three generations of women who are from this house. In this family, like many in this country, they are passed down from mother to daughter, to granddaughter.

So if we listen closely, whose voice can we hear? Whose whispers escape into the wind as it blows through the threads?

For my grandmother, Sivakamini Iyer (1924-2012)