Unwritten Wills Exhibit

Solo Exhibit at 12 Gates Arts, Philadelphia
Feb 18-March 27, 2017

Unwritten Wills
by Nandini Bagla Chirimar

A will, even though a legal document, is one of the most difficult and emotionally fraught set of papers that passes through our hands. Having gone through two major losses in the recent past, I realized that along with the legal will, there exists another, perhaps more important ‘unwritten will’ which is not sealed in an envelope or notarized by an official. After losing my father and nanny in the same year, I had to go through their possessions that remained. I started thinking about what each item must have meant to its owner, and how it might have influenced my own life. A different perspective emerged of them as individuals, how they lived their lives, their dreams, what shaped their thinking.

As I was exploring my father’s bookshelves, I thought about how he must have felt when he read each book, how it might have changed him a bit, and how that change might have seeped through to my own life. Without him, they became his voice and embodiment of his thoughts.

My nanny came to our home with two steel trunks when I was 8 days old. When she passed away 48 years later, everything that belonged to her was in her room at our house. There were beautiful saris, her study materials, photographs, beloved radio, my doll, air mail letters and numerous household items. Napkins folded exactly how she had left them. Every single belonging had a history, and my history was somehow connected with it. 

In this exhibit I draw from their possessions, the house they spent their lives in, letters and memories. Some books and one of her trunks, including its contents, are part of an installation. Fabric from her saris has been used in several of the pieces. Very thin lines, using pencil, pen and thread are used throughout the work to convey the depth and sometimes overwhelming presence of human emotions that come with such events. 

Through my own experience I explore the larger question of what we really get from people who are important in our life. And how the physical things they leave behind continue to teach us the lessons they taught us while they were living.