The partition of the mind

In this work, traditional everyday objects associated with domesticity, food, livelihood, which represent social structures, have been cut in half. The work is a metaphor of not only the partition of India during British colonial rule, but also the rift caused by the country’s recolonization, which the artist believes is happening as a result of the transition of India to a highly consumerist society obsessed with the “mall culture” and foreign goods.

Made from the very objects that were used in traditional Indian homes – the brass thali (plate), lassi glasses, tiffins, etc., have been transformed into a new idiom. These objects have been used here as metaphor of the division of our home and society – in a country with “progress” and the GDP – at the cost of our traditional values and ideals of egalitarianism. In the past, when joint families existed, there were safety-nets in place, which meant a family member in need would get support from other members of the family. Similarly, monarchs would keep some money from tributes given to them aside, to help support their subjects in the hour of need such as during times of drought or famine.

This fracture of values, traditions and the loss of communal identity and pride, engendered by consumerism and individualistic desire in a post-globalized India have led to a further rift between the haves and have-nots.

This work is relevant in the contemporary milieu, as it also addresses the farmers of India – who help bring food to our table. By not being accepted to the dining table of the nuclear family, so to speak, farmers are left without support in their inability to pay off huge loans to moneylenders. The farmer suicides prevalent across India today are a stark reminder of how we Indians are not empathetic to the needs of others and are just interested in self-gain and greed. We have forgotten that we were once a part of a larger joint family where we took care of our country folk in times of need.

The fact that the materials used (utensils) in the artwork have been intentionally sourced from chor bazaar, literally “thieves market”, underscores how the once mundane has become exotic, eclectic and valuable, as joint families and eating off such materials and on the floor are a thing of the past. The brass of the past has become the stainless steel, and melamine today.

The artist is exploring the idea of the fissure of the India's social fabric as a metaphor for the creation of a new structure. This new structure, though fragile, has been created out of the bedrock of, Indian tradition (the utensils), albeit in a very haphazard manner with scant regard and sensitivity to one’s own culture and values – all in the rush for “progress”. One can still recognize that the new structure has been made from the old, but it is hard to understand how this structure, which has a very different purpose, has come about. Furthermore, this new structure is unstable and incongruous, much like the millions of shanty towns scattered haphazardly across urban India.

In this manner, the artist also plays with scale of not just the object but of people as well – where he starts with utensils (used in the family setting) and ends up with objects that could represent models for haphazardly constructed dwellings (used in a social setting).


This artwork was conceived at Studio X Mumbai and exhibited at the following venues: Studio X, Mumbai (February 2016); at Hotel Hotel, Canberra (June 2017); at Australian Design Centre, Sydney (April–May 2018); and at Bunjil Place, Narre Warren (June 2019).

This work has been published in Habitus and Trends. It was also part of the IDF Mumbai Design Trail.

Porosity Kabari is an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, collaborative project whereby Indian creative thinker Ishan Khosla, Australian object designer Trent Jansen, and Australian architect/artist Professor Richard Goodwin participated in an internse 3 week long workshop in the heart of Mumbai — which looked at various contemporary aspects related to the market, the city and the mass production/consumption cycle, sustainability and various other aspects that came up as a result of the process. The project challenged these three designers to collaborate in Mumbai’s ‘Chor Bazaar’ (thieves market) and ‘Studio X’, using the bazaar as their only source of materials and making processes. In the bazaar, the designers learned from spontaneous conversation and experimentation with the vendors and crafts people working in this manic market place. Conversely, Studio X afforded the designers a space for considered discussion and precise prototyping, in the development of refined ideas to be taken back into the bazaar.

Porosity Kabari — Creative Rationale:
How can something become something else? This is the essence of sustainable design in a contingent society such as India — a society without the common social safeguards of developed nations, one where the survival of each individual is determined by their unique ability to be creative and resourceful. While the rest of the world struggles with the environmental implications of designed obsolescence and disposable consumption, India is a place where resourcefulness is part of the everyday. Found throughout India, ‘Kabari Bazaars’ (Junk Markets) and 'Chor Bazaars' (thieves markets) are the neighbourhoods where many of India's useful things end up at the end of their long lives. It is in these bazaars that many useful objects are given a second life – car panels are transformed into ad-hock cookers and old clothing is quilted into rugs for snake charmers. Radical transformation at its best. What they didn't initially realize was that this object was inspired by their work — the scaffoldings done by them in the building.

One core principal of the Chor Bazaar is the ad-libbed nature of making, where time spent agonising over a design decision is income lost. The short period of time allocated to the designers
(3 weeks) and the ad-hock making methods adopted by bazaar workers meant that design decisions were made quickly. The designers made decision in the moment, as the maker with whom they worked gave shape to those decisions with an immediacy that is seldom experienced in the Australian context. The complete novelty of these work practices, combined with the exotic material palette found in the Chor Bazaar, forced the designers to adopt an entirely new method of designing, changing their practices and providing the potential for a series of outcomes that are unique within their portfolios. The sculptural furniture objects created in Mumbai's Chor Bazaar and Studio X formed the Porosity Kabari Exhibition. This exhibition was presented by Mumbai's Studio X in February 2016.

Photo Credits: Last four images by Boaz Nothman.

Porosity Kabari + Happy 5th Studio X Mumbai

Works in Progress for (a) Better Tomorrow’ by Ishan Khosla