At the Conflictorium in Ahmedabad, Struggle is the Subject of Art
Where I come from, conflict has, for the past six decades, been passed on from generation to generation, like an heirloom.
Conflict– between the army and insurgents, over AFSPA, between India and Pakistan – has normalised the word for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Clashes over the Kashmir issue, Naxalism, the Israel-Palestine conflict in West Asia and innumerable others have painted the world in blood, violence and pain.
Even though the specificities of each conflict is different, they all begin with fundamental, irreconcilable differences between two sides, whose narratives are opposed to each other. To us, Pakistan is always the bad guy. And for Pakistan, we’re the bad guys.
It is this dichotomy, and Ahmedabad’s own bloody history that inspired the creation of India’s first Museum of Conflict.
The Conflictorium is the brainchild of Avni Sethi, an artist and dancer from Ahmedabad. It recently marked three years of portraying conflict through art and installations.
Located in the Gool Lodge building in the Mirzapur area of the city, the conflictorium attempts in each of its programmes and shows, to highlight or talk about conflict, which has become a ubiquitous part of our existence. Big conflicts, small conflicts. Mohalla-level conflicts and conflicts involving entire communities and nations. We are surrounded by them.
Once inside the museum, you will find an enclosure called The Conflict Timeline, which showcases the violent and oppressive past of Gujarat (the state the museum is located in) since its inception in the year 1960.
The timeline is an archive of all the conflicts that Gujarat has witnessed, from its separation from Bombay Presidency in 1959, to the last one that took place in 2013.
In tightly bound scrolls, every fight, argument and skirmish that took place in the state is documented and locked away in cabinets.
The Empathy Alley is a room that houses the silhouettes of political figures such as Gandhi, Ambedkar, Nehru, Jinnah, Sardar Patel, and Indulal Yagnik.
With each figure is an original recording of one of their famous speeches. The speeches express the ideological positions of each leader in post-independence India.
When humans start behaving in exemplary ways, there remains no difference between us and the gods. Throughout time, people just like you and me renounced baseness and showed us what we all are capable of — even though the shadows of their differences continue to shape our destiny even today.Conflictorium, Ahmedabad
The peepal tree outside the building has been christened the Sorry Tree, with cards bearing names of people and their apologies. After all, at the end of a conflict we are overwhelmed by a deep sense of guilt and tragedy, are we not?
The museum is probably one of its kind in our country where we are talking about conflicts through art. Having studied art history, I found it the most meaningful to engage with art and audience. We have both contemporary art exhibitions, theatre, poetry, perfomance and also programs which deal with history.V Divaker, Curator, Conflictorium
The museum regularly holds poetry meetings, artist workshops, and talks about its theme. At times, the issue does get heated, as each side tends to get defensive about its involvement, but then again dialogue about the issue is one of the underlying aims of the museum.
Given the delicate nature of the matter, each exhibit is verified by The Centre of Social Justice, so that it can pass the test of presenting an issue in a balanced, objective manner.
Although an interesting idea, conflicts are a dark chapter fought with raw passion and intensity. So, does he think an elegant museum, modelled after the theme, can help us overcome conflict and its aftermath? To which, he says:
Conflicts are basically differences and disagreements.The problem is we don’t have the maturity to handle differences. Differences are fundamental to any human activity. Its the way we accept and negotiate them, that we can move forward. But that doesn’t mean we forget injustice and keep moving forward blindly. We need to re-look and re-solve.