Space of Feminist Belonging

How does one belong to a place? What do architectures of belonging feel like? This project aims to document the stories, movements, and connections between women who have offered me the gift of feminist belonging. By layering these narratives onto the physical plan of a house in Vadodara (India), this digital storytelling work will fill the gaps left by formal architectural conventions. The resulting palimpsest, I expect, will identify conditions that can help nurture (and navigate) the space of dignity and belonging. Consider, for example, the recordings from this past summer (2018). My mum’s actions evidenced her deeply embodied knowledge about what belonging looks like and can be with dissent and across difference. Every morning, we sat at the kitchen table and talked about care and community. I listened to her describe the flow of daily rituals, family relationships, city experiences, and life in this house. Gender was at the core of our conversations and her architectural criticisms. We also discussed transgender lives, about individuals she has met and the powerful stories of love she has heard about in the context of our extended friends and family. The clarity, curiosity, and confidence in her voice and eyes were unparalleled.

On one of the days, we visited Madhuben in my mum’s ancestral village of Uttarsanda, who recounted to us how she sits on the otla every evening to go over her grandchildren’s homework, asking them to share their school lessons with her so that she too can learn. She makes sure they follow clock time, participate in the arts, remain curious in school, and eat lunch from their tiffin boxes. She doesn’t read or write.

Later, we visited Leelaba near Karamsad. For years, she has blessed me with her love and care. At 80 years old, she still sits up when I see her. This summer was no different. Holding my hand tightly, she asked her grandchild to come and sit with us as I shared my university experiences with them. She doesn’t read or write either.

The brilliance and care of my mum and other women I call family continue to be my guiding light. Their affirmations, critical insights, and self-discipline are life-giving. My mum couldn’t pursue higher education due to circumstances, but her everyday feminisms of care, community, and resistance inform my world view.