Why did you cry?

Do ghosts feel jealous if you miss the living ones more than them?

Project Collaborators:

Fukun (Conversations, Love, Courage, Freedom)

Ananya Gautam (M.Des Photography Design, National Institute of Design, Gandhinagar)
(Conversations, Writing, Moral support, Critical review, Ethical review)

Garance Paule (M.Res Fine Art, Royal College of Art, London)
(Cinematogrpahy, Performance, Conversations)

Vijay Sarathy (Visual Artist and Photographer, India)
(Conceptualisation, Mentoring, Critical Review, Book Publishing Guidance)

Theo Leonowicz (M,.A Photogrpahy, Royal College of Art, London)
(Photography, Conversations, Ideation, Critical Review, Moral Support)

Ritu Pandey (M.A Visual Communication, Royal College of Art, London)
(Book Design, Writing, Visual Research)

Leesha Chaurasia (M.A Interior Design, Royal College of Art, London)
(Exhibition Space Design in White City Campus, Visual Research)

Vivek Jangid (M.A Visual Communication, Royal College of Art, London)
(Exhibition Space Ideation, Interview Video Documentation, Title Calligraphy)

Blurring the lines between the living and the dead, this project was a way to decode my minute emotional gestures around the dissonance between absence and presence, while I desperately longed for the presence of the people I have loved and lost.

The project wouldn’t have been possible without the presence of these two beautiful souls in my life. Thank you, Ananya and Fukun, for making me feel the very essence of love, loss, and longing at a depth I had never felt before. Your presence and absence have made me reflect deeply on my emotions and purpose in life, thereby leading to a deeper understanding of my insecurities and strengths. 

Thank you, London, for embracing me like a mother and keeping me healthy throughout the year with your food, water and air. Thank you, Subha bhai, Partha Bhai, and Bapi bhai, for guiding me like my elder brothers and making me feel at home in London. Thank you, Bill and Charis, for making me feel at home in Gradpad.

Thank you, Shubhika, Priyanjita, Anshul, Ayon, Aman, Kunal, Bharat, Wree, Kuthum, Purohit, Soumyajit, Ritu, Leesha, Richa, Theo, Garance, Amir, Vivek, Donna, Irushi, Vicky, Pharez, Suwen, Yigo, Ting, Tony, Amelia, Ria, Marija, Santra, Chetan, Shahwali, Olesea, Suheda, Evelina, Soma Mam, Sampreet, Gandhi Bhai, Twinkle Didi, Debasish, Debashish bhai, Sumon bhai, Saunak, Ankur, Dipti, Katyayani, Maheshwari, Megha, Aparna, Arun, Archie, Medha, Utkarsh, Adarsh and many more who contributed to my project, with their valuable time. 

Thank you to everyone who took the time to share intimate and sensitive stories of your lives. All the conversations, chats, video calls, and voice notes testify to your love and trust. Thank you for signing the consent forms and sending them to me when I needed them during the ethical review of my project. The project would not have been possible without you people. Lots of love. 

The list is very long, and I apologise for missing someone. Pardon me. 

I am grateful for my conversations with therapists, psychologists and psychotherapists who helped me understand the deep-rooted fears and abandonment issues and helped me in my healing journey. Thank you, Professor Del Loewenthalfor your valuable time and your insights. Thank you, Dr. Maria Vasudevan, for bringing your healing energy into my life. I learned about attachment patterns, inner child work, hypnotherapy, past life regression therapy, and many other techniques.

Thank you, Shilpa, Biju, Shrinkhala, and Hitesh, for checking on me when you felt something was wrong. A long hug to Hitesh for allowing me to leave NID without guilt. That hour-long conversation in your room after the Jury was deeply moving and motivating. Thank you, respected director of NID, Mr Praveen Nahar, for not questioning me about my decision to drop out of NID, encouraging me to check out for scholarships and helping me connect with London-based NID alums.Thank you, Prof. Jignesh, for your honest opinions about RCA pedagogy, scholarships and life in London.

Immense love and gratitude to my tutor, Lena Dobrowolska, for watering the roots of my project. That hour-long conversation in the White City Campus was life-changing when you went through my photography works and listened to my story. After that, the email you sent me was enough for me to pick this idea and work on it. I can’t thank you enough for it. To quote your words from the email, “…there is a very gentle and kind energy about you, which the world could do with right now. Your ideas are very thoughtful and meaningful, and you should be more confident about pursuing them. Sometimes, we can only find out what’s right for us by trying things!” I wish such teachers for everyone. Words are powerful. We underestimate the amount of impact they can have on someone.

The project has deep roots in the therapeutic nature of photography, and my tutor Lena once told me, “Photographs don’t exist on screens.” One day, while discussing photography and prints with Ananya, she told me how her professor, Prof. Rishi Singhal, tells them to “Print like a king.” I can safely say I printed like a king in RCA. The RCA print labs were my temple of knowledge and ecstasy the whole year. Thank you, Fiona, Alba, Sunny, Josephine, and Constantina. I can’t thank you enough for your timely help and guidance with the prints the whole year. The tangible feeling of holding printed photographs on various kinds of papers, metals and silver vinyl sheets was unparalleled.

A special mention goes to Vijay Sarathy, who gave me the courage to start this project. From the initial mentoring sessions, where you asked me to dive deep into my photo archives, to the final sessions, where you shared references of book publishers I should connect with, your thoughtful presence at every step helped me feel courageous to dive into the vulnerable side of me. Your suggestion to revisit Baripada, where I spent my childhood days with my brother, to photograph the spaces really moved me. I have yet to go for it, but it’s on my list. Your mentoring sessions were profoundly thoughtful, and I got a new direction for the project. Thank you for the hour-long conversations in which you shared ideas around photography, performance, and book publishing and your insights on ethical concerns around consent and privacy. Every conversation enriched me and pushed me to be courageous, vulnerable and honest in my writing and image-making process. Thank you is an understatement for you, Vijay.

Thank you, Baba and Mummy, for your love and care when I needed it the most. Thank you for the trust you have in me. Thank you for making my journey to RCA possible. Thank you for allowing me to drop out of NID when I had no logical reason for my decision. I am grateful for the events that took place in the last two years, which brought me closer to my parents. For the first time, I was opening up with them about friendship, romantic feelings, love, sex, marriage, caste system, conditioning, patriarchy, rape, sexual abuse, violence, mental health, trauma, death, funeral, therapy and healing. More than the final outcomes, the intimate conversations made the project worth it.

“Art, for me at least, is the practice of actualising feelings, decoding minute emotional gestures (much of the time perceived intuitively) and situating oneself in the present world in its complexity.”

Shabaka Hutchings

Grounded in the concept of Hauntology, the project sheds light on the lingering impact of unresolved emotions and memories. The project aims to understand the complex emotional states that intertwine memory and loss. It captures the dissonance between absence and presence, evoking a profound sense of longing and resignation. 

Drawing inspiration from Roland Barthes‘ concept of the punctum, the poignant detail in an image that evokes a deeply personal and emotional response, I dive deep into my personal archive to search for images that evoke vivid memories of the pivotal moments in my life.

With an autoethnographic approach, I excavate memories and engage in intimate conversations with family, friends, and strangers. In the process, I explore my insecurities and strengths and gain a profound understanding of myself.

The project seeks to illuminate the transformative power of love and death and shed light on the haunting allure of unrequited love and grief.

Watch the Performance: Duration: 4 mins 14 secs. ​

Play Video

what haunts more?

An unpresence, an absence or a phantom presence.​

close up shot of semi dry mud being rubbed on the foot using hands and grass

sometimes i wonder, when did it all start?

this feeling of love, this longing, this grief, this obsession, this feeling of knowing someone from some past life, this phantom presence in the absence, the guilt, the shame, this feeling of unworthiness, the pain in the breathing, the occasional bursts of happiness, the unexpected tears out of nowhere, the madness.

IMG_1984 // 6th Nov, 2021 // 5:18 AM

Someone blessed me with a coin,
and asked me to wrap it in a red cloth. I believed.

The roots.

In the depths of my dreams, I am reunited with my beloved younger brother, Fukun, who departed this world in 2010 at the tender age of 12. His absence lingers within me, and I find solace in our imagined conversations. It feels as though his spirit resides within me, guiding and comforting me through life’s trials.

To capture his essence, I dive into my photographic archive, unearthing cherished memories frozen in time. These photographs become a medium through which I engage in a dialogue with Fukun, overlaying words upon his images to bridge the gap between past and present.

But Fukun’s presence extends beyond my dreams and photographs. In quiet moments, I feel his unseen hand guiding me, his laughter whispering through the rustling leaves. His absence serves as a constant reminder of the fragility of life and the profound impact of loss. 

In 2021, I met Ananya during my Master’s at NID Ahmedabad, our shared love for photography, music, art, and literature fostered a bond of friendship. But it was our mutual understanding of death and the weight of loss that truly cemented our connection. Through conversations about grief and recommended readings, I found solace in her presence, peeling back layers of pain and healing.

As our bond grew, I mustered the courage to express my feelings for Ananya. She, however, needed space and time to heal from her own wounds, and her honest admission dealt a blow to my already fragile state. The rupture in our friendship left me emotionally drained, questioning my self-worth and priorities in life.

Seeking a fresh start, I made the decision to leave Ahmedabad and dropped out of NID. A new chapter beckoned at the Royal College of Art (RCA), an institution that offered me a full tuition scholarship from Apple. Relocating brought a change of scenery, yet the longing for Ananya persisted—a smouldering ember within the depths of my heart.

In moments of tears and contemplation, I wondered how Fukun would perceive my anguish. Would he be jealous of the depth of my longing for Ananya? Did I miss her more than I missed him? These thoughts haunted me, giving birth to the title of my project at RCA— “Do ghosts feel jealous if you miss the living ones more than them?” It encapsulated the intricate interplay of loss, longing, and the complexities of human emotions.

Within the halls of RCA, I delved into my photographic archive, sifting through fragments of memory. I sought guidance from psychologists and engaged in profound conversations with psychotherapists, unraveling the impact of unattended grief and the significance of funeral ceremonies. It became apparent that I had never truly accepted Fukun’s death or properly mourned his loss. His absence remained as a phantom presence, weighing upon my soul.

an image with about fifty thousand thumbnails of my iPhone photo archive, looks like a huge grid of photos, a really huge one, sunlight falls on it from the back, it's a print on a transparent sheet pasted on a glass wall.

Ananya held a unique place in my journey of grief and longing. She was the first person in years to inquire deeply about Fukun, questioning our closeness. Defining “closeness” became a contemplative exercise, as I grappled with the inexplicable connection I felt with Ananya, despite never having met her in person. Perhaps it was a bond forged in a past life — a question that remained unanswered.

The project becomes a space where performance breathes soul into narratives, and writing unveils the depths of our inner worlds. The project creates an intimate sanctuary for contemplation, connection, and the profound exploration of the intricate tapestries that weave our narratives.

Performance acts as a vessel, bringing forth raw emotions and experiences to spark empathy and understanding. Performative writing unveils the closely acquainted narratives etched upon the pages, weaving a delicate web of vulnerability, introspection, and self-discovery. 

And within the therapeutic embrace of phototherapy, the project harnesses the healing power of the image-making process and images, fostering personal growth and transformation.

An old family photo with handwritten text on it. A kid with his brother and mother are on the bed.

Through my artistic expressions—a photo-book filled with captured memories, immersive performance art, heartfelt writings, evocative films, and the raw recordings of my voice notes and dream fragments — I seek to share the reflections of my journey. It is my hope that those who have experienced similar depths of grief and loss will find solace within these pages, discovering echoes of their own struggles and resilience. May my exploration become a beacon of light, guiding others towards healing and the embrace of fragmented souls. 

Amidst the gentle melancholia that permeates the air, we are reminded of the transformative potential hidden within our deepest sorrows and the remarkable resilience of the human spirit.

Love, Death, and everything in between.

Love, Death, Loss, Longing, Grief, Healing, Emotions, Reflections, Memories, Nostalgia, Dreams, Sleep, Anxiety, Trauma, Therapy, Siblings, Friendship, Romantic Love, Ghosting, Relationship, Breakup, Insecurities, Toxic Traits, Mental Health, Communication, Art Therapy, Autoethnography, Hauntology, Music, Writing, Photography, Art, Performance Art, Body, Archive, Soundscape, Audio Recording, Voice Notes.

I am looking to collaborate with performers, sound artists, sculpture artists, photographers, and writers to infuse more life into the story and exhibition. I am looking for a curator who could help me bring my vision to life in an exhibition space

I am also looking forward to connecting with book publishers who would be willing to give me a chance to let my photographs from my archive, and pages from my journals, find their home on the sacred pages of a beautiful book.

Crafted with Freedom and Love.

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