A month or so back I was sleepless in Goa. The baby and husband were fast asleep and I was wide awake. My sleepless nights are usually filled with half baked dreams, a lot of rolling and much mental chatter. That night somewhere between REM moments and nightdreaming I emerged with an idea. I awoke with the concept clear in my head. Over breakfast I told my two nieces and they said they liked it.
So here was what I dreamed or cooked up that night. All of us have wallets that contain money, cards, receipts etc. Those all important practical items that allow us to function in the material world. We would never leave the home without our wallets and phones in today's world. So we carry our wallets with us at all times. And sometimes within those layered pockets we hold on to more than just cash and cards. We have tiny objects that carry a sentimental reminder. A scribbled note that traces a story we once lived. A fragmented piece of paper that captures a memory. Many years back my husband showed me the stub of the movie we had watched together many years ago in New York City. Just one random day, he pulled it out and asked me if I remembered. I am much older in my head thanks to my horrible memory, so I hummed and scrunched up my face in reverie. But he had to remind me about the night we had gone to see 'No Country for Old Men'. The ticket had faded by now. That night after the movie we had drinks at some pub where the bartender was super friendly and made me some heady concoction he named a skittle cocktail. In my defense that's why I couldn't remember the night vividly. But the tattered ticket bought that night back in light. Holding the ticket made it even more meaningful. The year was 2007.
10 years later on a humid sleepless night in the South of India between my dreams I know I must have thought of that movie ticket. I obviously love the idea that my husband had held on to it. A fragment of paper that was physicaly part of a time we had shared. It makes me feel very special. That little piece of paper that still sat in his wallet as our 2 year old child snuggled between us in bed.
I want to capture the stories that lie hidden in keepsakes kept in wallets and purses. The documentary filmmaker within me is captivated by the stories these little mementos carry. Going through a woman's handbag is a forbidden act in most cultures. I think many people sometimes even forget they have held on to little things. These tiny memoirs of moments lay hidden and their stories are not told. Only the wallet bearer secretly knows. I want to tell the stories of the things we hold on to. From all the tickets, pictures, stubs and papers that we go through in a lifetime only some special tokens find their way into these dark attics of our wallets and purses. Those are the tales that I want to hear.
I am reminded of a project done by a photographer where he took pictures of people's medicine cabinets. The medicine cabinet - an equally intimate space that strangers are not supposed to go through. A space that tells you a lot about the owner no doubt. If you read his interviews he talks about going into peoples homes and taking these pictures without their permission. This is where I differ with his methodology. I think the act of looking at the items of a persons wallet or purse are just as voyeuristic as opening someone's medicine cabinet. But in capturing my wallet- medicine cabinet images I want to get to know the person. I think this is a great opportunity for someone like me who loves meeting new people anyways. I believe the consent of people in any art project unveils greater honesty in the telling of the tale.
Ever since this idea came to life I have been telling friends and family. My favorite moment in this project so far was when I told my high school friends during a dinner in New Delhi. I was standing with Durba and Amitesh and Amitesh heard the first two sentences and then whipped out his wallet and took out a tiny card he had. My first reaction was immediate excitement that he got the project and that he had responded to it with his own wallet memorabilia. In the act of opening his wallet and taking out a secret treasure right after I told him about my idea I felt my project had been launched. In a serious tone before he took it out he said he had never shown this to anyone. I'm pleased to announce that my husband's wallet and Amitesh and his wife Vasudha's wallet will be the first in this new project of mine!
And the name of this project has several working titles. Some of the ones I am toying with are 'Past Pocket Project', ''Things we Hold On To', 'Pocket Mementos' 'MyMentos' 'Wallet Keepsakes' and 'Stories we carry'.