Figure 1 - Emily Jacir, Belongings.
As we witness the passing of a year since the lockdown and the pandemic, we reflect on what the year has given us. Millions, over this year, migrated towards their homes when the lockdown was first announced. What is it about the home that urged people to make their way homeward and how was it for those who were forced to be far away from home?
In an attempt to define what a home is, Mary Douglas describes what it is by comparing it with other institutions. She says, ‘Home certainly cannot be defined by any of its functions. Try the idea that home provides the primary care of bodies: if that is what it does best, it is not very efficient; a health farm or hotel could do as well. To say that it provides for the education of the infants hardly covers what it does, and raises the same question about whether specialized schools or orphanages would not do it better…Happiness is not guaranteed in a home. It is possible to be happy in a hotel or a transit camp, but they are nonhome’ (Douglas 2007, 61-62)
Then what does a home guarantee? Permanence? Homes need not be all brick and stone. Some live-in wagons, tents, boats or on the street. A home becomes a space that houses ideas and memories. To dwell in a home refers to being rooted to the environment. Deborah Tall adds, ‘But at root “dwell” means to pause, to linger or delay. We dwell on a subject, but eventually give it up. So, what does it mean to dwell somewhere? How long do we have to stay? ...The easy replacement of home ignores its emotional charge for us, ignores how important familiarity is in the constitution of home. Frequent dislocation, or the sudden destruction of a known environment, can be fundamentally deranging. It means the loss of personal landmarks – which embody the past – and the disintegration of a communal pattern of identity. People relocated from condemned slums, for instance, often suffer terribly no matter how much more “attractive” the new housing provided. Home is where we know – and are known – through accumulated experience.’ (Tall 2007, 424)
Gaston Bachelard in the Poetics of Space describes the home as an “integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind. ... thanks to the house, a great many of our memories are housed.” Any space be it a little corner of the home or the staircase become associated with memories that have formed around the space. (Bachelard 1994, 6-8). Memories are also formed around the objects that are found in a space such as textiles.
A piece of textile is enmeshed in these memories of a home. Drifting between a functional and non-functional object, when spatially located a piece of textile is used to cover a piano, wrap a vase, drawn as curtains, placed as cushion covers or hung up on the wall as a display. The textile is remembered for its texture, smell and location in the home. It becomes the primary object through which familiarity is maintained. Easily foldable, and flexible in its function, the fabric is carried everywhere to build and retain a home. They mark a space, separate them and sometimes become multifunctional platforms for everyday activities, serving as a social and cultural unifier. (Like mats, hand knotted carpets). They can also become sacred symbols like prayer rugs aiding in symbolically transporting worshipers elsewhere.
Through this journal series, we will observe the relationship between textile and the home. We will explore how they converse with each other and support one another as they unfold and fold spaces through the movement of time.
Written by Rukmini Swaminathan.
Rukmini is a researcher at The Registry of Sarees. She is interested in textile, design and architecture history and hopes to explore her interests through these journal entries.
Bachelard, Gaston. 1994. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press.
Douglas, Mary. 2007. "The idea of a home: a kind of space." In Housing and Dwelling; Perspectives on Modern Domestic Architecture, by Barbara Miller Lane, 61-68. London: Routledge.
Tall, Deborah. 2007. "Deborah Tall, Dwelling: making peace with space and place." In Housing and Dwelling; Perspectives on Modern Domestic Architecture, by Barbara Miller Lane, 424- 431. London: Routledge.
Figure 1 - Emily Jacir, Belongings.