Art on Armitage: Work-Life Balance

Installing the ‘Haath Gaadi’

Art on Armitage is a window gallery in a predominantly working class and Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago. It brings art out of the confines of the traditional art gallery and into the realm of the public. It is reputed for demystifying and making art accessible and showcasing artists who have strong social messages to convey.

When I secured a space to show here, I decided to display a combination of installation and paintings. The paintings were from the ‘Burden of Dreams’ series. I used to photograph manual workers at construction sites- some of these images included them carrying heavy material on their back/ head/ shoulders and this became the starting point for ‘Burden of Dreams’.  Bricks, used in construction, unite to form walls used to divide spaces. They are the perfect metaphor to compliment the work. They also add weight to the paintings.

The installation was a haath-gadi that fluidly converts itself into a home/ sleeping bunker. The interior of the haath-gaadi- created by found strips of wood, plastic tarp and jute strings- is decorated with a good luck charm of the nimboo-mirchi, images of lord ganesha and hero-worship film posters. The tarp itself has graffiti-like scribbles of text from school books, poems and math equations. Labor in all developing nations has been the job of the poor- where you use your body rather than your mind to earn. I called it Work-Life Balance because of the irony- it is such a white-collar term and the life of these workers actually has no balance. Their time is spent struggling for survival and dreaming of a better future. At the time of installing this work, I was reading ‘Beyond the Beautiful Forevers’ a book by Katherine Boo, which was also a source of inspiration.

I am an avid reader, and stories form an essential part of my life. They can be escapist, yet thought provoking; a poem can alter my mood and reading an article can elevate me. Literacy is a privilege- though those who have it take it for granted and those who don’t can’t even begin to imagine how it could change their lives. The reason for using illegible text was to momentarily evoke the feeling of helplessness in the viewer that an illiterate person feels every day.

All these elements were things I’d already used before. It seemed logical that, in time, they would come together.