Photograph of houses in India's Punjab with decorative sculptures on the roofs.

See photographs of water tanks and other rooftop sculptures found in India's Punjab region.

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Surrey Art Gallery - 13750 88 Ave

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Mumbai-based photographer Rajesh Vora documents domestic sculptures mounted on rooftops in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab that tell a story of identity, diaspora, family, and culture. Made from rebar, wire mesh, cement, and paint, many of these intriguing objects serve as functional water tanks.

This phenomenon is distinct to Punjabi villages, gaining popularity in the 1980s. At that time, local artists precast these sculptures from a mould that usually took the form of airplanes, falcons, and footballs. Over the years, artists have custom fabricated the sculptures for each homeowner, resulting in more diverse and elaborate works of art. Visitors will see more than one hundred of these sculptures in Rajesh Vora: Everyday Monuments. Birds, soccer balls, airliners, automobiles, army tanks, weightlifters, pressure cookers, lions, and horses are among the varied objects.

While Greater Vancouver has a Punjabi population established more than a century ago, it was during the latter half of the twentieth century that an increasing number of Punjabi villagers migrated to other parts of the world. Canada was one of their chosen destinations. Many return to India for seasonal visits, keeping close ties with families remaining in the villages and helping to finance the making of these houses. The houses themselves are an intricate mix of various styles, genres, and historical periods. Several stories high, they signal a shift from the traditional one-story courtyard-style house. Together, the unique houses with their rooftop embellishments break with conventional design boundaries. They show how art, architecture, and everyday life meld together. Vora’s photographs are an important record of this cultural expression of the Punjab that is all but unknown beyond India.

The sculptures installed on top of the houses are emblems of pride. They often represent personal and commemorative family symbols. For example: My grandfather had the first tractor in the village; my son is a weightlifter; we took Air Canada to reach our new home; we bought a Maruti car; my father was in the Indian army. These anecdotes reveal that these domestic sculptures are more than an artistic or architectural phenomenon. They tell a diasporic story that has echoes around the world.

Rajesh Vora: Everyday Monuments is guest curated by Keith Wallace and is made possible with financial support from the Hamber Foundation, Hari Sharma Foundation, and Zheng Shengtian Art Foundation. South Asian Studies Institute is a community partner. This exhibition is part of the 2022 Capture Photography Festival Selected Exhibition Program.


About Rajesh Vora

Rajesh Vora (b.1954) is a widely published Mumbai-based photographer who has focused primarily on architectural and cultural subject matter. He graduated in 1979 from the National Institute of Design in Amedabad, India. His architectural photography appears in Domus (India), Architectural Design (India), Inside Outside, Dezeen, and ArchDaily. In 2001, 2007, 2010, and 2016, Vora was commissioned to document architecture projects with social relevance in India and Bangladesh for The Aga Khan Award for Architecture Foundation. His photographs have been exhibited in Santa Cruz de Tenerife (Canary Islands), Lille (France), Newark Museum (New Jersey), PHOTOINK (New Delhi), Jaipur Photo Fest, and India International Centre (New Delhi).

Curator: Keith Wallace
Origin of Exhibition: Surrey Art Gallery
Community Partner: South Asian Studies Institute