In the late 1970s, a unique local art form emerged in the villages of Doaba, a rural region of India’s Punjab state. Villagers who had moved elsewhere but retained close ties to the region began constructing elaborate multi-storey homes of brick or marble, topped with sculptural watertanks, sometimes called “showpieces.” Though almost unknown outside of India, in certain areas of the Punjab today homes like these dominate the landscape. The painted cement-and-rebar embellishments are usually individually commissioned, and take various forms including planes, animals, soccer balls, and weightlifters; in all cases, their intent is to announce and honour a family or individual’s presence in and connection to the region. Combined with the intricately decorated houses on which they perch, these works represent a merging of art, architecture, and everyday life that transcends conventional design norms to tell a diasporic story in a form that is unique to Punjab.
Mumbai-based photographer Rajesh Vora visited 150 villages over several years to photograph hundreds of these works. In 2022, his photos were exhibited at the Surrey Art Gallery in British Columbia, Canada, a major centre of the Punjabi diaspora. In addition to over 140 of Vora’s photographs, this volume offers texts by Rahul Mehrotra, who observes the hybrid and evolving conceptions of home that these vernacular forms express; Vora and Keith Wallace, the exhibition’s curator, who discuss the origins of the works and their travels in the region; Sajdeep Soomal, who locates the sculptures’ “dreams of technological modernity” on a trajectory flowing from the region’s agricultural past through to its independence from British colonization; and Satwinder Kaur Bains, who reflects on the nuanced and complex evocations that these photos tease from her own experience of migration.