‘Fragmented Life’, the online exhibition organised by Emami Art, that is on view till August 31, paints a picture of privilege as it unpacks the turmoil faced by migrant workers in pandemic.
The nation went under a lockdown of unprecedented scale on March 24. While some complained of not being able to step outdoors, others only wanted to go home – home that was often, if not always, several thousand miles away. Migrant workers from all over the country began to either walk to a different state, or stow themselves away in vehicles carrying essential commodities. Railway stations became forced shelters, and walking the extreme distance took a deadly toll on some.
Fragmented Life by Anjan Modak – an online exhibition hosted by Emami Art – shapes its works around this exodus. The migrant workers’ daily strife is etched on their painted faces through the consistent expressions of anguish, exhaustion and uncertainty that Modak conveys in each work. The very acts of carrying luggage, walking, and working are removed from their pedestals of unburdened simplicity and loaded with the unspoken, but widespread strife of migrant workers. The meagre belongings, neatly folded up, carry in their small spaces the very souls of the people carrying them. Packing, here, becomes the metaphor where lives are wrapped up in an instant, and the luggage these workers carry reflect the longing for a distant home.
Another consistent motif is a bag of tiny houses that, at first glance, look like dice. Workers are depicted shouldering this bag of houses as they make the long, tiring journey back home. In some works, these houses are piled within suitcases. An exhausted migrant worker with a swollen leg lies on the suitcase with a strip of cloth attached. The work titled Fragmented Life 4 draws the upsetting picture from articles about migrant workers’ children resting on suitcases while the parents pulled the suitcases with the makeshift rope.
While Fragmented Life 10 shows a migrant worker shouldering a house while treading the knife that is the road. As increased cost of living and the struggle awaiting them back home, drove many to the mercy of the road,Another Nature 1 displays the uprooting of people from their environments. The migrant worker in this piece is suspended mid-air, mouth open in a silent scream, resembling the uprooted tree below him with eerie similarity.
In its entirety, Fragmented Life is a harsh, honest and unflinching depiction of the forced migration we all saw unfolding on our TV screens. Its works pick apart the notion of a home, and the lack of one and force us to reckon with the privilege that is bestowed on just a select few.