Making room for the subjectivity of all our experiences and telling a story through them is central to Eeshita’s creative process. As she describes her process as “thinking by doing”, we delve into it.
As a creative practitioner, what is your creative process and how does it evolve?
I work quite intuitively and I like to do a lot of research. If there's one thing that I get interested in, I keep going deeper and deeper. I like to read what other artists and authors have to say about the questions that I'm interested in. I like to talk to ordinary people and understand their life experiences. I feel like what I'm researching or the questions that I'm interested in inform what shape or form my work is really going to take. And I also like to reflect on my own. I think part of my process is also trying to find parallels between all these different channels of information, then trying to figure out what is the best form to present this research, the questions that have arisen from listening to people. I feel like my process is more about thinking and listening and thinking by doing. It has to be an active process.
"I feel like my process is more about thinking and listening and thinking by doing."
Over the years, you have created work independently and you have worked with different organizations. Are there any underlying core values that you bring to your work? What do you hope for your work to say? What would you like to leave behind?
I don't think I've really worked independently in that sense. I've always worked in a collective setting, even if I haven't really been part of any institution. I think the people that I work with are collaborators, I don't see myself working in an isolated way. I feel like that's really important to me. And I think that's something that I definitely want my work to communicate that this isn't the sole vision of some singular artist, all I'm really doing is trying to maybe orchestrate, or curate, or just act as some kind of a collector of these different experiences and be able to tell a story through them. And make people think about things that they may have taken for granted, or just ordinary stuff, read between the lines, just making the mundane lot more beautiful. So yeah, I feel like my work would be more successful if anyone, even a single person, would just feel like, oh, I thought of that, too. So having some kind of resonance, I think would be like a marker of success for me.
User Manual which is a toolkit that takes you to a fictional world where housework has been commodified and patriarchy denied. Masquerading as a cookbook, it features six delicious recipes that call for the reader to look closer and read between the lines.
So when you’re the only person who's orchestrating the entire thing, you could be the only person who is pushing yourself. How do you then stay connected to your creativity in that process?
I guess, it’s natural for someone to feel responsible for certain work. It's a difficult one to answer. If you are working in a collaborative and collective way, I think you have to be able to trust the pace of the work and that people will take their time. So it involves a bit of letting go of your own expectations and timelines. And so I feel like in that way, my work ends up moving at a much slower pace and is super iterative. I don't think I ever arrive at any final version. It just feels like with every step I take, it's a new layer that's being added.
And, how do I stay in touch with my creativity?
I feel like I have to keep doing different things. My studio practice is one way in which I get to do things in a more selfish way, where it's just me and my paper, my ink, and whatever I'm drawing. It's a very inward, reflective process and really helps me. I guess again it's all about making and keeping that practice going. So even in those small actions of sticking two pieces of paper together, it just gives me some time to pause and think and contemplate my next step in the projects that I'm working on.
As an independent artist, what do you think have been the biggest obstacles in your journey?
Money and time. Always finding the motivation to do something, especially when there's no money, or time is usually the biggest challenge. And to find a balance over time, as an artist, what my priorities are. I think, for a long time, I was not sure. I didn't even think of myself as an artist, I was always looking for work and a job somewhere to apply my skills. I think one of the challenges was to really find a balance between doing things that fulfill me at work and finding fulfilling work, which also pays me well, and gives me enough time to pursue the projects that I am working on. So it's a constant negotiation that I still haven't cracked. But you just gotta keep going on.
The book was built in collaboration with 3 homemakers and their families, living in the Bangalore Pete.
Q. With regard to your project, the feminist cookbook - what made you interested in these particular stories of women that you talked to, their recipes, and kitchens? How did you arrive at the process?
It was actually my final project at Srishti when I was doing the PGDP and the brief was like, here's like this market space, there's many things happening. So we were pushed into this space. Go explore, talk to people, and the overall theme was care. How do you experience care in the city? And I think the first observation I made when I was in that space, it's the area in Bangalore is that where are the women? Because it was a marketplace. So a lot of the shopkeepers were men. If you would see women, they were on a mission, they're out to get something or buy something. And they're moving through the space with intention. But on the other hand, I wouldn't really stop a woman and talk to her. I would just naturally go to some man, loitering around, hanging around, just and talk to them about the space. So I realized that it's telling me about who is occupying the space.
Through a friend, I was introduced to a family that lived there. And I just started talking to the women there wanting to know what their lives are like. And this area is so different from the rest of urban Bangalore. It's this tiny, congested little area. While we would be talking, there'll be food on the table, auntie would be cooking, and I'd be hanging around the kitchen listening to her speak. There was never a moment where she would sit down and just talk. So I think what became very clear to me was that I was interested in the idea of domestic care then, and how these women were raising families in these spaces. And I just wanted to understand care from a woman's lens. A woman’s labor is often trivialized, it is invisibilized, and is taken for granted. Women assume the role of primary caregivers.
I was interested in what was not being said in those conversations. And what I was noticing was what was hidden in this context, and how patriarchy existed in the home, but was hidden. And so I wanted to talk about how a lot of these assumed gender roles, and sexism, and patriarchy is invisibilized. Because it's so normal to function that way. And so that's how I came up with the cookbook, because food was the primary caregiving activity. Since our conversations were also centered around food, I wanted to use food as a way to talk about these women's lives and experiences, and use that cookbook as a metaphor and you might need to read between the lines to really see it. And that's why I played with the idea of embedding these texts and having codes and puzzles, a hidden manifesto to bring that point home that it’s a metaphor for how patriarchy is invisible.
"I was interested in what was not being said in those conversations. And what I was noticing was what was hidden in this context, and how patriarchy existed in the home but was hidden."
While we would be talking, there'll be food on the table, auntie would be cooking, and I'd be hanging around the kitchen listening to her speak.
These were domestic spaces that you were approaching, and these spaces are not always easily accessible. What were your challenges in part of this entire process of bringing the book together?
I think arriving at what form it would take took me some time to figure out. And the other thing was, who is this book for? I call it the user guide for collective cooking, but it's not really a user guide. It's not a function object. I think what was challenging was to really be able to explain that this is not some tool you can use. It's an object to make you think about some of these ideas. And I think making that clear to people was maybe a little challenging. Even for me to realize that this is not like some practical guide. And these are very intimate and personal experiences and sometimes really difficult things that have been shared with me, and they're not easy things to talk about. So how do I honor these stories without it becoming exploitative. Because these women have agency, in their own little ways, they are subverting the patriarchy.
It was challenging for me to figure out what is the best way to talk about these things without compromising on some of these ethical questions. I did that by also bringing in my own personal experiences and trying to maintain some kind of anonymity on what was being shared. Also, to translate, transform those stories into something that is something more than what is being told to me literally. I think the work of the artist really is to transform. And I think realizing what I had to do, it took me a lot of time to understand what I was really doing here with this.
Do you have a process, how do you approach your research? What's your research methodology like in general?
My research methodology is, if I have a question in mind, I will always wonder, who else has asked the same question. So I'll just look for more people, I'll look for work that kind of tries to also answer my question.
And, I'll see what are the different responses that people have. Because it's so subjective. What I'm trying to get at is also the subjectivity of all our experiences. So yeah, I just try to gather as much as I can on that subject, I try to read as much as I can. What academics have to say, how other artists have interpreted it. So trying to get as much as I can from different channels and different kinds of people and voices, from different angles, I try to get a 360 view. Before I fix or think this is my lens that I'm going to be looking at. How I want to think, I want to know exactly how the entire world has probably tried to understand this question. Because there's so many different life experiences, backgrounds, and ways of thinking. So I try to do as much as I can to understand that.
How has your experience of being a creative producer for a digital zine been like?
I think with the zine, one thing that stays constant is that it's a publication it lives online, I feel like the form is preset, which makes all the others aspects become a variable, because I think in my process, it's usually the output that's also a variable, it's not really decided. So it's interesting to know that whatever happens, it needs to be in this, it needs to go online in this form. And I think everything else is a similar approach that I bring to the work. We start with a random question or some kind of a prompt and try to figure out all the kinds of work that has happened around it. And with the zine, it's trying to be as true to the idea of a zine as something that is also a collage of ideas, trying best to also represent that. And to me that happens when we talk to different people, but also, if someone's visiting the zine to be able to point them to all these different artists and writers who have had their own process and lens to that question.
What have you been reading, eating, watching, visiting, questioning, thinking about, doing, feeling excited about? Fill the bowl with your musings, interests, suggestions and recommendations.
Book of Mutter by Kate Zambreno
Wages against Housework by Silvia Federici
FeministKilljoys.com by Sarah Ahmed
TV: Asma Khan’s episode in Chef’s Table
The Great Indian Kitchen by Jeo Baby
Food: Huda Bar’s Peanut Butter (yum)