Nestled in the hustle and bustle of Mirzapur, old Ahmedabad, is a white refurbished mansion standing tall in the walled city neighbourhood where people of all regions and castes live together in harmony. Set up in 2013 by Avni Sethi, the Gool Lodge Building belonged to a Parsi lady, Ms Bachuben Nagarwala – Ahmedabad’s first hairstylist and beautician. This two-storeyed building used to be her home and studio. Today, it’s India’s first museum of conflict, called The Conflictorium.
While museums obligate the visitors to be silent and not disrupt the artefacts by touching them, the Conflictorium encourages visitors to touch, feel and experience the exhibits, engaging them in a unique conversation with various conflict issues - a concept that usually makes one walk away. What’s unique about this project is the fact that it not only sheds light on various social and political oppositions prevailing in the state or nation, it also lets one ponder over their own internal struggles.
Instead of hiding the sensitive topic of conflict and the issues surrounding it, the museum turns it into a very interactive dialogue with four exhibits on the ground floor and four on the first floor with each demanding an immediate response and reaction from the visitor.
Initiating the experience with the Conflict Timeline, this exhibit takes us back to 1960s showcasing the various oppressions and struggles that dawned upon Gujarat, followed by the Gallery of Disputes, designed by Mansi Thakkar the museum’s Graphic designer, which lets one react to and experience the space through audio-visual techniques. The most intriguing and chilling exhibit the conflict on gender, with satirical Bollywood songs and dialogues, leaves the visitor staring angrily yet empathetically at the poster in front. The Conflictorium explores the issues from various angles, The Empathy Alley takes you to an empty room with silhouettes of National leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, Ambedkar and Sardar Patel connecting each of them with a red tape on the floor, symbolizing a connection between each idea and view. The silhouettes come alive with a switch and one can hear the various views the leaders had on separation, India’s destiny and their vision of the nation.
The next room, Moral Compass, hold the Constitution of India on a podium with a picture of BR Ambedkar on the wall looking at it. This room also displays huge banners that list the Acts and Bills that provide legal protection for women against various oppressions and atrocities. Leading you to the Memory Lab, a space that urges you to associate with an exhibit in the museum and lets you put down the memory attached to it in the glass jars kept in the room.
Keeping the spirit of the Gool Lodge alive, The Power of new creates a third space. One that encourages acceptance and healing. With a mirror lit up with makeup lights and a table that hold Bachuben’s spectacles, a pair of scissors and an audio device, that with its voice and experience takes a part of you and in returns lets, you leave with a part of the museum. The audio asks you to look into the mirror, a daily routine that many follow, and sometimes more than just once in a day; it asks you to observe yourself and connect with yourself because we may see the mirror every day, but do we really observe ourselves?
The conversation continues on the first floor which leads to two thrilling exhibits, one being a wall with Rohit Vemula’s suicide note and another the ‘sorry’ tree because no matter how big or small a conflict may be, it ends with an apology( at least it should). The final exhibit is a peepal tree with bits of paper hanging from it. These are sorry notes written by each visitor, an apology to yourself, or someone you loved.
Through artistic, interactive and creative ways, the Conflictorium lets you peek into the various struggles, internal as well as external. The museum also conducts various workshops and talks from time to time.
With no entry fee, the Conflictorium lets you experience the sensitive theme of conflict without shying away from it, making it a lived reality of countless people of the past, and recognising their experiences. They only way we can truly progress and move towards a future of peace and equality is if we recognise our mistakes of the past, learn from them and each other.
Click here for more information about the Conflictorium.