TIRUPATI BODY THREADS

Winston Oh Travelogue Award 2019

Tucked away in the Southern state of Andra Pradesh, Tirupati is home to one of the most holy pilgrimage sites, the Sri Venkateswara Swamy Vaari Temple. The temple is known for its specialisation in hair sacrifices. Devotees travel from all corners of the globe to take on the gruelling climb of 3500 steps up a hill where the temple is situated. The temple collects roughly about 600 tonnes of donated human hair a year which is then auctioned off for millions to bidders around the world electronically. Most of the devotees are unaware of this.

Loose hair is treated differently in this city compared to anywhere else in the world. What is usually seen as filth and threatens the cleanliness of a space, in Tirupati is celebrated and is seen as precious and valuable. 

I was drawn to the hairy sculptures that can be found hanging above the entrances to shops and restaurants scattered around the city. These sculptures are made up of found objects specific to the area such as fruits, dried chilis, garments, threads, rocks and hair. Harnessing the power of the devotees sacrifice, hair is weaved and wrapped around these objects, charging them and giving them power.

Acting almost as talismans, these hairy hanging sculptures bless the space, offering it protection and good fortune.

Similarly in South East Asia, wind chimes made of bone, wood, and bamboo were used to ward off evil spirits. They were used as a warning signal for natural disasters such as typhoons and tsunamis.

Drawing from these two cultures, I created mobiles and and hanging sculptures made up of found objects collected from different areas around Singapore and sacrificed hair purchased from Tirupati. The installation acts as a way to mesh the two cultures, harnessing the power of hair sacrifices taken place in Tirupati to charge the mobiles which in turn protect and bless the space by employing two very contrasting but similar cultural practices.

2019