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What We Hold

Meera Margaret Singh


Gallery TPW, Toronto
January 18 – March 30, 2024


Delicately and carefully balanced on a twig that itself is precariously balanced on a bottle, the smallest object in What We Hold – a one quarter anna from 1941– is immense in other ways. Belonging to Meera Margaret Singh’s father, the coin is one of the few belongings that accompanied him when his family fled India during the partition. He was five years old at the time and along with this slight possession carried with him memories of violence and trauma. 


The coin is part of an arrangement of objects collected and inherited by Singh that she has configured into a sculptural work referencing the potency of everyday things in our everyday lives. Joined by a series of photographic still lifes and further sculptural work, What We Hold traces familial histories and memories through objects – some joyful, others haunted. Throughout the exhibition, objects are witness to the quiet and loud punctuations that inform the lives of their bearers and the ghosting quality that items of personal significance accrue over time. Teased out from their domestic interiorities through image and assemblage, these objects serve as conduits of recollection and offer continuities of connection tangibly linking the past and present. As sites that enunciate affective relations, their temporal registers constitute the multitude of meanings stowed within their various forms. 

Figures are largely absent in Singh’s photographs. When they do appear, it is primarily through hands and arms – pointing beyond the tactility of found and acquired objects to the haptics of the images themselves. As Tina M. Campt’s writing has knowingly conveyed, photographs are not merely visual representations. Collected, displayed and circulated, images are objects of touch that inform the act of viewing through the triangulation of the “optic, tactile and emotive.” [1] When referencing the significance of the haptic in relation to domestic photographs, Campt notes that materiality and tactility shape the social life of the image onto which are mapped complex affiliations, desires, sentiments and attachments. [2]Singh’s layered renderings of the haptic substantiate the sensate and affective attributes of objects within images and images as objects. 

One particular photograph of Singh’s stands apart from the rest, tonally and visually. Birds of a Feather shows Singh and her son holding bird masks up to their faces – he faces the camera; she faces her son. The image articulates a compelling refrain within the exhibition – parenthood and intergenerational relationships. Books, shells, vases, trinkets, rocks and plants narrate of time spent and stories shared between child and parent, with Singh playing both parts. These are stories of loss, migration, marriage, ruptures, illness, recovery, healing, love and endlessly it goes on. While the intimacies of the objects on view are shared in whispered tones so that their secrets remain closely held by their keepers, they tell us that the archive of a life is abundant.

[1]Tina A. Campt, Image Matters: Archive, Photography, and the African Diaspora in Europe (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), 44.

[2] Ibid

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