Jovita Alvares

‘A House’

Site Project By Jovita Alvares

The concept for this piece is to understand how deep the roots of post colonialism run in our lives. My project explores this concept through the drawings of students from Karachi. The site for this project is the phrase, ‘a house’ and through this work I would like to to see how students respond when they aren’t given any instruction other than these two words.

My initial idea for this project is to do it in a classroom with first grade children as this is the place where one begins to learn different values as well as how to draw different things. Teachers usually draw various items on the board and the children are asked to copy them.

This project began with 23 first graders from DA Model High School, Phase IV in Defence. They asked several questions about the number of doors and windows that could be drawn to which they were told that everything could be left up to interpretation (one child asked whether it was necessary for it to look like a house and so instead made hers look like an ice cream). This exercise took 15 minutes to complete.

Later on, a group of A ‘level students were also given the same instructions as the first graders. These A ‘level students didn’t ask about the number of doors and windows but asked whether I wanted them to draw a gable-roofed house. A majority of students did draw the gable-roofed house; however, two of them drew houses with flat roofs which are common to Karachi.

In schools, students are taught how to copy the generic drawing of a house off the board and even as they grow older, a lot of them still revert back to what they were taught as children. It was also interesting to note that the students who did draw the flat-roofed houses were art students.

First grade students’ work:

DSC_0070  DSC_0079DSC_0083  DSC_0074  DSC_0081  DSC_0077

First grade student's work- 'Ice cream' house

First grade student’s work; ‘Ice cream’ house

A’levels Students’ work:

DSC_0085

A’level Student’s work; flat-roofed house

IMG-20141116-WA0003

A’level Student’s works;flat-roofed house

 

IMG-20141116-WA0001

IMG-20141116-WA0000IMG-20141116-WA0004IMG-20141116-WA0002

 

 

 

Final Essay –

During the 1830s, when the British had already established themselves as a superior figure in the subcontinent, they began replacing ‘the wasteful warlord aristocracy by a bureaucratic-military establishment’. They also established a ‘Western life-style using the English language and English Schools’. (Maddison)[1] What is known now as the Cambridge schooling system, was the same system used in schools at that time and is still considered to be one of the most prominent educational systems in our country, as well as the world today. The very existence of this system is an example of the lingering effects of colonialism.

 

My Site for this project is the linguistic term, a house. American author, Margaret Mead, once said, ‘Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.’[2] Likewise, I allowed students, from two different age groups, to interpret the term and produce work for me on the basis of their own understanding of ‘a house’.

‘Home’ is a notional entity that perhaps exists only in memory’[3]. My site project talks about the effect of colonialism on our lives. I asked children to draw a house and used the results as a medium to explicate my project. When we were younger, we were taught to draw gable-roofed houses which, over time, have become a symbol associated with the term, a house. As soon as we are asked to draw one, our mind reverts back to this generic drawing and so the linguistic term is altered by a preconceived notion of what we blindly believe a house to be.

Gable-roofed houses, which have a triangular shaped rooftop, have always been a Western phenomenon; this type of construction began with the Greeks and was called tympanum at the time (Friesen)[4]. This type of roof is productive for the West because it prevents the accumulation of snow on rooftops.  It is interesting to see that even though our city does not experience such weather, the presence of European and English architecture fused with the local Islamic architecture still exists (Alvi)[5]; it should be noted that this is another example of the lasting effects of colonialism. Hence, when I had asked first grade children as well as A’level students to draw a house, a majority of them produced houses with a triangular roof. Two students, however, did draw flat roofed homes that resembled their own.

Zarina Hashmi, an artist from the subcontinent who currently lives in New York is an artist that inspired this project. She talks about what a home means to her and how it is such a foreign concept. Her work, Folding House is ‘a transcendental exploration of the idea of an eternal home that exists in the realm of the imagination, constructed from the brick and mortar of memory and dream, but rooted in the material ruins of physical structure.’ [6] Similarly, my work reinforces Hashmi’s statement in the sense that a house is just a figment that children are blindly taught, and in most cases, grow up believing is acceptable portrayal.

She also uses a lot of language in her work, which was another thing that inspired me. In her work, Hashmi uses letters from her sister, written in Urdu, to explain her connection to her native tongue, as well as talk about a linguistic culture that was destroyed by the 1947 partition. (TATE)[7]. In the same way, I was enthused to look at how a particular linguistic term may be understood.

Did you come here to find history? is a piece by artist, Nusra Latif Qureshi who speaks about ‘the constitution of cultural history and identity’ through the overlapping of digital prints on clear film; among these, colonial photographs are present. The use of photographs from past and present interweave the two (The Global Contemporary Art Worlds After 1989 )[8] and like my work give a similar sense of our history, in my case, colonial history, continuously being a part of our present.

My project took place in classrooms; this is the place where a child’s mind is developed and taught to draw different things. It is a controlled space, where children are expected to listen to the teacher and follow her instructions. Teachers usually draw various items on the classroom board and the children are asked to copy them.

This project began with 23 first graders from DA Model High School in Defense, Phase IV. When the teacher announced that the children could draw first thing in the morning, they were all thrilled. They asked several questions about the number of doors and windows that could be drawn to which they were told that everything could be left up to interpretation (one child asked whether it was necessary for it to look like a house and so instead made hers look like an ice cream). However, the project was pretty successful as almost all of the children present drew their own version of a Gable roofed house. This exercise took 15 minutes to complete.

Later on, a group of A ‘level students were also given the same set of instructions as the first graders. It was interesting to see how the complexity of the questions varied from the younger students. These A ‘level students didn’t ask about the number of doors and windows but asked whether I wanted them to draw a ‘pointed-roofed house’, that is, a gable-roofed house. The results from these students were unanticipated. A majority of students did draw a gable-roofed house; however, two of them drew houses with flat roofs which are widely seen in Karachi, especially in Defense. When asked about their flat roofed drawings, these students responded by saying that these are what their actual houses look like.

Granted that the subjects for this project were from middle and upper classes, the results were still interesting. Though, the drawings of the children were expected, the drawings of the older students were not. In fact, I expected more flat roofed houses from the older students because of a previous notion that they would have a more developed understanding about the appearance of their own houses.

The idea of authorship also emerged from within this project even though it had not been anticipated. Other than the concept, the physical work produced from this project was not my own so the question arose as to who this work belonged to. Did it belong to the students who drew the houses? Or did it belong to me?

I realized that without my idea, not only would these drawings cease to exist; they wouldn’t have had much meaning as seperate artworks. Together, within the boundary of this project, these drawings were given significance as they helped prove my concept.

It is fascinating to note that both schools used for this project follow the same Cambridge education system left by the British. This project could, therefore, be improved by asking children from the matriculation schooling system to also draw a house and see how deep the post colonial roots really do flow.

Speaking about ‘cultural colonization’ Priya Joshi states that those who are colonized become an amalgamation of ‘two vastly different cultural systems. Colonial education creates a blurring that makes it difficult to differentiate between the new, enforced ideas of the colonizers and the formerly accepted native practices.’ (Joshi)[9]

 

Bibliography

Alvi, Pervais Munir. All things Pakistan. 2 February 2009. 8 December 2014.

Friesen, Craig. Hip Home Improvement Projects. 31 December 1969. 9 December 2014.

Joshi, Priya. Veda. n.d. Book. 8 December 2014.

Maddison, Angus. “The Economic and Social Impact of Colonial Rule in India.” Maddison, Angus. Class Structure and Economic Growth: India & Pakistan since the Moghuls . New York: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1971. 35. Document.

TATE. 25 April 2013. 8 December 2014.

The Global Contemporary Art Worlds After 1989 . 17 September 2011. 8 December 2014.

 

 

[1] Angus Maddison, Class Structure and Economic Growth: India and Pakistan since the Moghuls, (New York, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1971), p35.

[2] Allen Wong, Allen Wong’s Blog, http://regoapps.tumblr.com/post/48894380230/margaret-mead-once-said-children-must-be-taught [Last accessed: 8th December 2014]

[3]Rosalyn D’mello, “Folding House” is Artist Zarina Hashmi’s Homecoming’, Blouin Art Info (Posted: 23 January 2014). http://in.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/1003219/folding-house-is-artist-zarinas-homecoming [Last accessed:8th December 2014]

[4] Craig Freissen, ‘The Gable Roof: History of a Common Roof Construction Style’ Hip Homr Improvement Projects (Posted: December 1969) http://www.hip-home.com/tips/weekly-tips/the-gable-roof.html [Last accessed: 7th December 2014]

[5] Pervaiz Munir Alvi, ‘Architecture in Pakistan: A Historical Overview’, All Things Pakistan (Posted:2nd February 2009) http://pakistaniat.com/2009/02/02/pakistan-architecture-history/ [Last accessed: 8th December 2014]

[6] Rosalyn D’mello, “Folding House” is Artist Zarina Hashmi’s Homecoming’, Blouin Art Info (Posted: 23 January 2014). http://in.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/1003219/folding-house-is-artist-zarinas-homecoming [Last accessed:8th December 2014]

[7]‘Tateshots: Zarina Hashmi’, Tate,(Posted: 25 April 2013). http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/tateshots-zarina-hashmi [Last accessed: 7th December 2014]

[8] http://www.global-contemporary.de/en/artists/24-nusra-latif-qureshi

[9] Priya Joshi, ‘Culture and Consumption: Fiction, the Reading Public, and the British Novel in Colonial India’ quoted in History of British Rule and Colonization in India. http://veda.wikidot.com/article:british-education-in-india [Last accessed: 8th December 2014]

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s