Where You From? Bridging the Cross-Cultural Identities of India and Aotearoa

Intro image durga confab

To be a part of diaspora is to live between two worlds, a liminal space in which identity is constantly in flux, never stable. This is especially the case for second-generation immigrants, those born outside of their motherland, as they inherit this condition from birth. This “cultural no man’s land,” as it is described in artist Riz Ahmed’s spoken word “Where You From,” can be a difficult space to navigate, traversing a world in which they are Othered to both cultures they belong to.

This thesis draws from personal experiences as a second-generation Indian immigrant to envision a cross-cultural bridging of architectural interventions in both India and Aotearoa, predicated on the notion of memory as the avenue in which cultural identity is experienced.

Second-generation immigrants inhabit a unique position within society, living between two worlds—that of their cultural heritage, and the culture they reside in. This duality can be understood through Homi K. Bhabha’s theory of the Third Space, in which multiple cultures, through their constant negotiation, give birth to a new, hybridised identity. Coupled with imbalanced cultural representations within a Western-dominated society, however, issues arise from an insecurity of being “Other” to the cultures of their parents, and the culture they have been raised in. These issues often develop into a resentment of their cultural heritage, and internalised racism. This thesis responds to these issues through an interrogation of architecture’s capability to balance the uneven representation of cultures, and how such balance can aid in the identity formation of young Indian-New Zealanders.

Collage-Hybrid drawings of three personal memories of India.

This thesis frames memory as the realm in which our relationship to our cultural heritage crystalises; there is a symbiotic relationship between how we perceive memories as result of our cultural heritage, and vice versa. This relationship is investigated through an examination of my own memories as an Indian-New Zealander, informed predominantly by the sense of smell. The olfactory, of the five senses, is most directly connected to memory, and this relationship is explored through an interrogation, and subsequent spatial manifestation, of three core memories and the scents which have constructed them.

Collage elevations of my grandparents' neighbourhood in Durgasarobar, Guwahati Assam.
Memory map
Hybrid drawing and Memory map of Durgasarobar.

From these investigations, this thesis proposes architectural interventions both within the Bharatiya Mandir temple in Tāmaki Makaurau, and my grandparents' village in Durgasarobar, Guwahati, Assam India. The interventions emphasise the olfactory as the driver of design, rather than sight- the prioritised sense of the Western world. Between the two sites, a cross-cultural bridging is formed; architecture to breathe in, around, and within spaces representative of the cultural heritage of second-generation Indian immigrants.

Sections of the 'Chamber of Smells' in Bharatiya Mandir.
Sections of the 'Vidyapith Commune' in Durgasarobar.
Chamb collages
Interior collages of the 'Chamber of Smells.'
Vid collages
Interior collages of the 'Vidyapith Commune.'