Behind Ahmedabad’s old city walls lie treasures of history that are remarkable reminders of the past. One of them is Gool Lodge, the erstwhile home of a wealthy Parsi family. Located at a bustling corner behind a row of hawkers selling birds in cages, it could be just another decrepit structure but for a small red sign that says “Conflictorium”.
The charming rundown house, whose paint-peeled walls speak of many stories, has been saved from real estate sharks by being converted into a unique museum of conflict. The team that created it said: “The Conflictorium is a space that strives to engage every section of society with a variety of conflict issues, by celebrating plurality and encouraging conflict expression and avoidance in artistic and creative ways.”
Museum founder Avni Sethi told Frontline: “The moment I saw the building, it was clear to me that the space had to be open to the public. Its physical location characterises all the different players. You have the Chalte Peer ki Dargah on the left, a Sai Baba mandir on the right, there is a Devi puja community, the Muslims, the CNI church is down the road, the District Court which has seen trials of the most mysterious kinds is 200 metres away. So, really it is a basin of how the manifestations of conflict work.”
Speaking about the museum’s mission, Sethi said, “The conversation to have is not just about the Conflictorium but why it inhabits the nomenclature of “the Museum”. Why are we not a centre for art and conflict but a museum? A museum, we believe, legitimises narratives. We intentionally did this as there were narratives in circulation that were far from representing the truth of large sets of people. We asked, in what institutional manner can a museum embrace its full political potential.”
Keeping the house’s original structure intact, the Conflictorium flows through two floors with every room used for exhibits. There are two layers to the space—the story of the room and of the exhibit.
The ground floor exhibit is permanent while the first floor is used for long or short-term exhibits and a large room at the back doubles up as an auditorium.
Of the ground floor exhibits, Sethi said, “There are some fundamentals we need to locate to unearth what conflict means to our lives. Democracy or citizenship or nation building is largely the idea on the ground. Once we can see that, then the first floor can been seen via this lens of conflict and democracy or citizenship.”
A “Conflict Timeline” starts off the self-guided tour. Write-ups on Gujarat’s violent and oppressive past since 1960 are placed on old desks, shelves, and cabinets. There are exhibits titled: “The Gallery of Disputes,” “Empathy Alley”, and “Moral Compass”. Artist Mansi Thakkar designed the “Gallery of Disputes” as a walk-through with lights, sounds, and props to discuss the complexities of conflict and their causes in the context of India’s social fabric. Life-size wooden silhouettes of Gandhi, Ambedkar, Nehru, Jinnah, Patel, and Indulal Yagnik fill up “Empathy Alley”; the press of a button delivers a speech in the personality’s original voice.
“Moral Compass” seems particularly relevant today. Surrounded by panels marking years of human rights struggles is a copy of the Constitution. Visitors are encouraged to read or flip through the pages, an exercise that wields a quiet sense of power and pride.
The “Memory Lab” has rows of jars filled with bits of paper. It provides visitors an outlet to express their innermost thoughts; the empty jars placed to preserve the memories of conflict in the lives of the visitors.
On the first floor we come to a more recent past. The “Room of Mourning” pays homage to the lakhs who died during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other rooms are devoted to India’s denotified tribes; with a wall of invaluable, restored photographs of tribes once labelled criminals by the British fenced off with symbolic barbed wire, making it enormously impactful.
Dakxin Chhara, project director for the first floor, told Frontline that the Conflictorium gave a platform to speak of the atrocities and marginalisation that tribes such as the Maldaris, Sandhi Dafer, Nat, Bajariya, and Pardis continue to face. During the exhibition period, via 30 video podcasts, live performances, and lectures, denotified communities were able to discuss their history and present struggles. “The response we have had is very gratifying. When visiting Ahmedabad, a tour of the Gandhi Ashram and the Conflictorium is a must,” said Chhara.
ALSO WATCH: What was to pass… remained: A Conflictorium Production
- Conflictorium is located in Gool Lodge, the erstwhile home of a wealthy Parsi family, in Ahmedabad.
- The Conflictorium flows through two floors with every room used for exhibits. There are two layers to the space—the story of the room and of the exhibit.
- A “Conflict Timeline” starts off the self-guided tour. Write-ups on Gujarat’s violent and oppressive past since 1960 are placed on old desks, shelves, and cabinets.
- The “Memory Lab” has rows of jars filled with bits of paper. It provides visitors an outlet to express their innermost thoughts.
- The Conflictorium gives a platform to speak of the atrocities and marginalisation that tribes such as the Maldaris, Sandhi Dafer, Nat, Bajariya, and Pardis continue to face.