stories of invisible labor

stories of invisible labor
engraving on kitchen utensils
2018

Stories of Invisible Labour is an installation of finely engraved steel utensils documenting interviews of six women. This project constructs temporary spaces for women to heal from the collective memory of violence, exploitation, and segregation. Contextually, it explores women’s histories of migration to the metropolitan city, their sensitivities of belonging to a location, their current socio-economic problems, gender politics they deal with everyday, and the invisible labor their bodies experience, in the present and in the past.

In the past dialogues concerning the power dynamics within the families, I came across a patriarchal attribute where despite the women being forced into domestic labour, the utensils were engraved with the name initials of the ‘family head’ which is usually a male. The practice of engraving initials on the utensils can be traced back to the earlier days, when large number of people were served home cooked food during occasions such as marriages. The Initials were marked to avoid confusion of ownership and redistribution after the event was over, as neighbors and relatives usually lent their utensils during these times. However, with increase in capitalism, the culture of celebrating such occasions using individual kitchen utensils has declined, yet the practice of marking initials of patriarchal order continues to exist widely at least in the Western part of India. 

As most kitchen utensils are made of steel, the performative act of engraving on the reflective surface further intensifies the subjective experience of femininity—first, by watching my own reflection while making these forms, second, by seeing and handling two tips of the engraver, one real and other virtual, which means the drawing happens in the mind more than the physical ability to see the actual drawing while engraving on the utensil. Through this work I perform labour by engraving lines repeatedly to develop into organic forms that echo the female body, besides tolerating the screaming noise caused by the clash of the two metals during the process. Hence, the form of utensils also metaphorically symbolize the seed—the life giver and the womb—the life holder.

The utensils were returned to the women from whom they were acquired to activate dialogues of and on the body, by making use of the engraved utensils in their everyday life. Through this project, the engraved utensils become the holders of women’s stories of invisible labour.