In search of social art practitioners
It is not easy to break the cycle of gender violence and women cannot do it alone. While it requires immense courage and guts on part of the victim to come out with tales of sexual harassment and assault, giving voice through artistic frames takes the battle to another level.
Khoj, a Delhi-based not-for-profit contemporary art organisation, has incubated the quotidian experiences of women and their acts of resilience against violence through 14 community-based projects from across India. Walking past the works is like bearing a witness to events, generating a sense of healing and catharsis and showcasing the vigour of collective action.
Titled Threading the Horizon: Propositions on World making through Socially Engaged Art Practice, the exhibition brings together socially engaged artists and theatre practitioners, who have tried to thread together the possibility of equitable futures across social and cultural horizons on their canvasses, says Pooja Sood, founding member and director of Khoj International Artist’s Association. Formed 25 years ago with the objective of engaging young artists in art-based community projects, the association aims to create inclusiveness and participation.
The projects pry open the everydayness of gender-based violence, says Manjiri Dubey, the exhibition curator. “It makes a way for an alternate framing of overwhelming experiences through the creative lens of artists, who have put the issue in the public realm to guide us on how to confront the culture of violence against women.”
The women of Gram Art Project, for instance, is a group of farmers, homemakers, artists and local villagers of Paradsinga in Chhindwara district of Madhya Pradesh, who have showcased a collection of clothes made from organic cotton, sourced in part from their own fields.
With different ideas and identities, they have connected their thoughts in a collective space to highlight their concerns of living and working in any average Indian village that suffers poverty, undergoes migration and remains steeped in superstitions.
It is the individual interpretation and iteration of clothing projected in the art work that haunts and reveals the stories of violence and the unjust practices that women have been facing silently. “Besides being a platform of expression for their concerns, it is also about sustainable clothing,” says Manjiri.
The conditions borne by women, queer and trans-people and those on the margins and their encounters are meaningfully highlighted. Goa-based Extra Time has used the medium of sports to develop a series of interventions as a means to address gender-based inequalities and lack of opportunities for young girls in schools. Called Princess Pea, it used football training sessions to initiate conversations, with parents and students to shift perceptions about gender roles.
Gendered Spaces based in Chitpur, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Kolkata, expands the discourse around gender roles by bringing men into the conversation to question patriarchy and notions of masculinity.
Home to a diverse set of people and histories in the bastis (slums) along the railway tracks and one of the biggest red-light districts close to the heritage palatial homes, the artwork examines how different spaces perpetuate shared ideals of masculinity.
Rajasthan’s Kyun Kyun Ladki addresses the possibilities that education can open up for young girls by engaging adolescent girls in two villages of the Sawai Madhopur district where they drop out of school by grade 8.
It builds into an exploration of the girls’ relationships with their families and larger communities and looks at how urbanisation and tourism can nurture curiosity and create a possibility for them to connect with their dreams.
Each artwork is an act of restitution and quietude. “Art is of intrinsic value to society and the exhibition is a crucial form of inquiry that provides unique insights and seeks to drive change through affect,” says Pooja.
At Khoj Studios, S-17 Khirkee Extension; Till December 30; 11 am to 8 pm