Art of the ugly: An aural immersive presents the stories of waste pickers at a landfill

And a website brings forth the tediousness of a housewife’s life.

art festival
Project Homemakers is a despairing depiction of what entails a housewife’s life.

An object of beauty. That’s what an art work is often described as. A landmark garbage dump and real life stories of waste pickers would hardly classify as your typical artwork. But digital storytelling project Suno hits hard. An aural immersive experience, it picks on stories of a waste-picker community living near Bhalswa, the largest landfill site in Delhi. A media experiment, the four project members—Kanchan, Sukriti, Depanshu and Mayank—placed recording devices at various points at the landfill to tape the stories of the waste pickers. Armed with a torch and supplies to last the night, the waste pickers climb the landfill at night to collect the unsegregated waste. The sheer repulsiveness of the landfill apart, the pickers battle not only disease and disgust, but danger as well on a pile of garbage that is prone to falling to bits under their feet. “Chadhna bhi aise hi padhta hai, utarna bhi aise hi padhta hai,” says one voice. Interestingly, the project has no visuals. Says Sukriti Thukral, one of the members, “We wanted to focus on the stories and chose to not reveal the faces of the workers.”

The sound of little children playing in the garbage is a tug at heartstrings. Amusing themselves, they find treasures in the trash, where boxes of garbage become boats and the leachate becomes the river. “Arrey lagi re lagi re lagi re, Oh baar baar neeche,” comes the voice of a child playing at the landfill. The majority of the waste pickers belong to the julaha community from Bengal, who migrated to Delhi in search for a better life but are now in a love-hate relationship with the landfill, which is their livelihood but also a death spell.

Project Homemakers is a despairing depiction of what entails a housewife’s life. Pritish Bali and Anu Bali’s project revolves around digitally archived conversation about meals prepared by a mother, serving as a metaphor for many other unwaged caregivers. The project reflects the daily updates of Anu Bali working over the years as a housewife, and has interactive sections on the website that calculate things like hours of labour by a housewife, how women’s names are changed after marriage, abolishing the identity they have lived with, and more. The installation has ants pencilled all over the walls, signifying a tangential reference to the idea of this incessant labour performed by a homemaker.

The projects are part of the Serendipity Arts outreach at India Art Fair, and a result of several digitally-led projects for which grants were given through the course of the pandemic.

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