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JUXTAPOSITION OF
PURITY AND POLLUTION

THEME4_1

WEEK 01             

ROOM FOR GREY

ARTIST JEISI AMAWASA

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image shows a number of pictures placed against each other. There is a large earthen pot with biryani and a small earthen pot with curd. There is a picture of a woman washing her face with soap and the lather is all over her hands and face. Next to her picture is a label ‘Bufin soap strips’. There is a blue circle with Oral B written on it and a rose petal. There is also a logo labelled ‘Nandini: The Real Spice of Life’ and the same brand name written in Kannada. These images are displayed against a white background with ants on it.

From the artist’s note: 

“Dear Street Store Dolls, 

Hello and welcome to my strange little head where thoughts spread like tiny ants on a 5-second rule Mysore Pak. When I used to go on walks when I was 6, I used to notice the dogs, the way the sun hid behind the trees, and the new floors in bloom. I still do that. But now, I also notice strange contrasts. Poor. Rich. Big. Small. Beautiful. Disgusting. I’ll stop there with doubt – 

What IS beauty? What IS disgust?…

I grew up around a strong sense of “purity and pollution” – ideals which teenage rebellion questioned but today as I’ve realised, the subconscious internalised. But as contrasts often tell us, there is always room for grey. Why else would flowers grow right after a pile of garbage on the street? Why would a biryani brand name themselves after a “pure” magical all-wish-granting cow and embellish its English logo in an Urduesque font [Kannada one remaining plain].

How else would I embrace the hope of the grey in the space between an old temple and a masjid - despite finding the earlier flower I’d mentioned above?
Just how?

<3
Jeisi
Amawasa “

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

Cleansing and purifying are eternal processes, existing as receding planes, never actually intending to fulfil their purported promises of eliminating filth and pollution, perhaps because it is unclear what exactly the distinction between the desirable and the undesirable is. There is also the tacit realisation that purity is meaningless without some kind of profanity. The utter meaninglessness of the purity/pollution distinction is perhaps most strikingly illustrated in the association made between the cow and biryani to symbolise the latter’s purity owing to the privileged status accorded to the former.

THEME4_2

WEEK 01              

THROUGH THE ALLEYS

ARTIST LOKI

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The first image shows a white cutout of a hand with a mehendi design.The second image shows an actual person’s foot with a mehendi design that comprises a large dot in the centre and smaller dots all around it. The next 2 images are of a box with pictures of garbage and debris and there is the hand from the earlier picture placed on the floor of the box as if the hand is navigating the box through different angles. 

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

Ornamentation could be seen as a feeble attempt to distance the wearer from the disorderliness in which they are embedded. But we are a part of this havoc – it constitutes us and we constitute it. So even the most ornate of designs will need to navigate terrains and crevices of filth and risk being stained.

THEME4_3

WEEK 01             

CHEE OR YUM

ARTIST LAVENDER HIPPO

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image has a black background with six small pink folded envelopes stuck on it. The words ‘Chee or Yum’ are handwritten in white ink below each of them.

 

Excerpt from the artist’s note:

‘Dear Z,


I went out near my neighbourhood about twice and once I felt a dirty smell come along with me throughout. Turns out that it was coming from me – well it was my bag. Previously my dad bought meat in this bag, and the blood from it had leaked out into the bag and the smell never went away, even after it was washed multiple times. Every time I had a strong reaction to a smell I felt in my chest. 


- Lavender Hippo’

 

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS 

The durability of memory encoded in smell is an interesting counterpoint to the privileged status that is often given to sight. And once experienced, the risk of re-experiencing piques our caution.

THEME4_4

WEEK 01             

IT DOESN'T STOP THERE

ARTIST MORTY SMITH

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: Different patterns, shapes, triangles, hexagons, circles are hand drawn against a white background. The colour of the shapes and patterns are yellow, pink, green and blue. An outstretched arm extends from the top left corner. In the bottom left corner are plates with different foods, including what appears to be a cake, a salad bowl and a broth. The text “ IT DOESN'T STOP HERE!”Is written in capital block letters in the centre of the drawing 

 

From the artist’s note: 

“The moment I read the prompt I knew the things I would notice are untidy, unhygienic places. I took a couple of walks in different areas. Interestingly, they were all on good days. I mean good weather/good mood. The roads were relatively clean. I didn’t notice any strong judgement. On the last walk I took, I consciously put all the associations I was holding aside, and walked with an open mind. I started noticing the gestures of people around me, how different dogs/cats make me feel. I did notice that there were subtle biases. ‘It doesn’t stop there’ means that any small thought that occurs has deeper roots.”

 

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS 

When one thinks consciously about the very categorization of the pure and the polluted, there is the very strong possibility of turning the focus of reflection onto the self.

THEME4_5

WEEK 01            

I HOLD MY BREATH

ARTIST Z

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image shows a black colour plastic garbage bag that is tied with string and has a letter inside it. The excerpt from the letter is mentioned in the main text.

 

LISTEN TO THIS POEM

00:00 / 01:23
  • Transcription
    Week 1 Hi Jessi Amawasa, Have you thought about body wash? What a weird invention, right? Someone looked at the shampoo bottle and thought what if I put it on my entire body. But of course, they were scared of uncontrollable body hair and had to come up with something entirely different. If you have to find a product that clearly distinguishes between the upper and lower middle class, body wash would be that product. Cars used to be that product before, the ones that segregated the middle classes. Now even the lower strata have cars for either their business or help them earn money as transport providers. Being one of 3 siblings in a lower-middle-class home meant all the three had to share the same soap till it got over and we got a new one. Usually, the soap stays for 15 days depending on the brand. The long-lasting one as televised and promised was the lifebuoy soaps that lasted a month. The first time I encountered body wash was in a hotel room in Chennai. Tired from the journey I hit the bed and woke up to get to an event venue. I don't travel much so I tend to forget things, I had packed my toothbrush and everything but forgot the soap. I step into the bathroom to find these weird two bottles of liquid. I thought they were the same thing and maybe they kept two bottles for two days of the stay I had booked for. So the first day, I had used the shampoo to bathe myself, and only the next day I figured out that it was body wash. As I was following last week's warm-up exercise(of finding things in my house), my hand stumbled on a bottle of body wash that I had kept from a recent hospital visit. It is so funny that this small bottle of body wash is asked to wash the dirt of two people(patient+attender). I went out and brought a sop to use in the hospital. Since my wife didn't use the body wash either, she packed it home, because she paid for it. That's something my mom does in restaurants, carries the Peppermint Coated Fennel Saunf in tissues. And just like the Saunf in your mouth, you never know how much body wash is too much body wash. So I always end up using lesser, always thinking that anything which washes my body should come for more than 15 days. I don't know about you, but I have always imagined the lives of rich people and what would it look like. Would it be worlds away? Would it be more bright, since lower-middle-class homes can rarely see the horizon and so the sun rarely finds the need to visit them? My wife on the other hand comes from a family that wants to call itself middle class for the sake of humility but is not. Since my family has come a long way from sharing soaps and towels, I am beginning to understand body wash. Finally figured how much is good enough. Yet, there is this unexplainable guilt of spending too much money that could be fixed with a Lifeboy Soap. Does this make any sense?

From the artist’s note:

Sep 13, 2021  

Week 1: See-Saw 

Dear Lavendar Hippo,  

Here is a poem ‘I hold my breath’, as the artistic response for Week 1 of See-Saw.

  

Using the prompt was an interesting experience for me, as it brought out unexpected  insights. If I had been asked to write about what disgusted me about my neighbourhood, I would have had a long list even without the walk as a prompt.  However, consciously observing my body and senses during the walk around the  neighbourhood, made me realise that very few things disgust me, but quite a few  things make me anxious.  

I noticed that my body is desensitised to so many sounds, smells and sights that I would  expect to be overwhelming or unappealing. I tend to walk around my neighbourhood  looking up at the sky because the trees comfort me – the bright new Honge leaves sparkling in the afternoon sun, or the red-orange leaves of Teak trees glowing in the  morning. In fact over time, I have started doing this consciously as an escape – ‘Let’s  pretend this is not a city’.  

The poem that I have shared is about what I learned from this experience by observing  my body. I noticed that I sighed every time I passed by a heap of garbage, and there  are several such heaps around my neighbourhood. I realised that it brought back a  memory of a garbage bag moving and rustling. What could be creepier than our own imagination! 

I also noticed that my body responded the same way to a house on one of the streets.  Though I pass by it several times a week, I had never noticed how uncomfortable it  made me with its lack of conformity. This exercise also helped me notice how much conformity there is in my neighbourhood, despite it being multi-cultural and in flux. This conformity provides me an illusion of security.  

I look forward to receiving your artistic response for Week 1 and also getting to know  you a little each week, through your art. 

warm regards,  

Z “

 

 

DESCRIPTION: Typed English poem - “I hold my breath” - in black font against a white background.  Transcript and recording of the poem is provided to the right of the image.

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

The suspension of our bodies from the messiness of their surroundings, however temporary that suspension might be, is a form of privilege. This does not delegitimize the perspective but instead marks the perceiver. Sometimes, to be able to observe pollution itself marks off a position of relative protection from it.

THEME4_6

WEEK 01             

BODY WASH

ARTIST STREET STORE DOLLS

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

  • Transcription
    Week 1 Hi Jessi Amawasa, Have you thought about body wash? What a weird invention, right? Someone looked at the shampoo bottle and thought what if I put it on my entire body. But of course, they were scared of uncontrollable body hair and had to come up with something entirely different. If you have to find a product that clearly distinguishes between the upper and lower middle class, body wash would be that product. Cars used to be that product before, the ones that segregated the middle classes. Now even the lower strata have cars for either their business or help them earn money as transport providers. Being one of 3 siblings in a lower-middle-class home meant all the three had to share the same soap till it got over and we got a new one. Usually, the soap stays for 15 days depending on the brand. The long-lasting one as televised and promised was the lifebuoy soaps that lasted a month. The first time I encountered body wash was in a hotel room in Chennai. Tired from the journey I hit the bed and woke up to get to an event venue. I don't travel much so I tend to forget things, I had packed my toothbrush and everything but forgot the soap. I step into the bathroom to find these weird two bottles of liquid. I thought they were the same thing and maybe they kept two bottles for two days of the stay I had booked for. So the first day, I had used the shampoo to bathe myself, and only the next day I figured out that it was body wash. As I was following last week's warm-up exercise(of finding things in my house), my hand stumbled on a bottle of body wash that I had kept from a recent hospital visit. It is so funny that this small bottle of body wash is asked to wash the dirt of two people(patient+attender). I went out and brought a sop to use in the hospital. Since my wife didn't use the body wash either, she packed it home, because she paid for it. That's something my mom does in restaurants, carries the Peppermint Coated Fennel Saunf in tissues. And just like the Saunf in your mouth, you never know how much body wash is too much body wash. So I always end up using lesser, always thinking that anything which washes my body should come for more than 15 days. I don't know about you, but I have always imagined the lives of rich people and what would it look like. Would it be worlds away? Would it be more bright, since lower-middle-class homes can rarely see the horizon and so the sun rarely finds the need to visit them? My wife on the other hand comes from a family that wants to call itself middle class for the sake of humility but is not. Since my family has come a long way from sharing soaps and towels, I am beginning to understand body wash. Finally figured how much is good enough. Yet, there is this unexplainable guilt of spending too much money that could be fixed with a Lifeboy Soap. Does this make any sense?

 

DESCRIPTION: Typed text in English in black font against a white background.  Transcript is provided to the right of the image.

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

Not as much of a juxtaposition, but the ways in which objects of pleasantness and cleansing such as body wash, shampoo, soap and fennel are endowed with emotive significance in a person’s life, suggests that efforts at purification are not always meant to eliminate dirt but their predominant function could be that of carriers of memories and stories of the positionalities of those who use them.

THEME4_7

WEEK 04             

WORDS ARE NOT ENOUGH

ARTIST LOKI

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: An image of a collage of letters and colours arranged in an abstract way. Colours include blue and pinks in one corner. Above that are skin colour tones with browns. On the other side is yellow and green with some mixed colours and in another corner are some pastel shades. Letters are of different shapes and sizes interspersed with hand written words and  are arranged in the collage like a puzzle without any particular order. There are also a number of words that are written including Doy, Chakachak, Soak, Wrinkled, Room, Time, Background, Terrace, Crisp.

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS 

Cleanliness and its objective correlatives suggest the desperate attempt to scrub off the pollution and reveal the purity therein. But the form of the pure is unknown and it is unknown what there really is to reveal. But we clean on nevertheless.

THEME4_8

WEEK 05             

WILD GARLIC FLOWERS

ARTIST LOKI

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image has three black and white pictures of black bowls with a flower in each of them.

Excerpt from the artist’s note:

“Oct 11
Dear  Lavender  Hippo,

 

I thought it would be interesting as garlic evokes such a  range of emotions … and it did, it led to two artistic responses this week.  

The first artistic response is a collection of vignettes, ‘Wild Garlic Flowers’.
• I went online to look at different types of garlic, just out of curiosity, and  happened to come across a photograph of flowers that sprout from  garlic. I had never thought about flowers from garlic before, or onions or  any other vegetable.  

• I thought it would be interesting to look at garlic as something stinky,  taboo, delicious – but also alive and blooming through us. This  influenced the title and presentation of the response. I wanted to make  it feel like a book on wild flowers.  

The second artistic response is a set of black and white photographs, titled  ‘Offering’.  

• I kept thinking about garlic as flowers and how I could use that for a  visual response. I wanted to play with the idea of garlic being taboo as  an offering to a deity, and provoke the idea of what is a worthy offering.  

• The photograph is meant to contrast the fragility of garlic as a flower  offering, with a dark, taboo, mysterious context.

 

warm regards,

 Z”

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

Garlic is an apt exemplar of the fluidity between flavourful and over flavouring, pleasurable and disdainful, pure and impure, sacred and profane, edible and inedible. It is one of those objects about which it is impossible to have a neutral opinion. 

THEME4_9

WEEK 07             

UP TO YOU

ARTIST JEISI AMAWASA

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image has a red background with the picture of a piece of paper that has ‘Do Not Eat’ written over it. Red strips are crisscrossed over the paper. Below the image is the text ‘Titled: Meat Containing Morals/Morality Contained by Meat’ (2021).

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

To eat or not to eat…?

THEME4_10

WEEK 08            

CHICKEN AND EGGS

ARTIST MORTY SMITH

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image has a collage of multiple pictures. They are in clockwise order, a cross-section of a fig, a goat, a patterned arrangement of skeletons, a piece of grapefruit, chicken curry, the carcass of a deer, a blood stream, a doll’s body, a woman’s cleavage and the upside down head of a skeleton.

 

Excerpt from the artist’s note:

“Dear Gulla,


I was almost going to give up. I found it repelling. I can still feel the iky-ness in my stomach as I am writing about the experience. 

I am a vegetarian, I used to eat chicken and eggs before. I quit chicken almost 4 years ago and eggs 2 years ago. While quitting chicken was a conscious decision I had an experience with eggs. On one fine day while eating an egg sandwich I visualised a small chick in my mouth and that was it. I found it nauseating. That brings me to the recipe that was shared in the prompt. It was difficult for me to even read, the visuals were too strong.

The response you see is filled with provoking images that could bring a similar emotion to what I was going through while keeping an aesthetic. Which I thought was the reality of day to day life. The fact that the dairy/meat industry, the dumping yard, the Burial ground and any factory for that matter, are not in my periphery is making me numb to the bigger picture.”

 

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

The images in the collage capture various, seemingly unrelated images of profanity, death, decay and disgust and demonstrate an uncomfortable yet undeniable continuum between the human and the animal world.

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