Leena Kejriwal is a photographer and an installation artist. Her large scale photographic installations have found a home in multiple cities across the globe like Kolkata, Delhi, Tehran, Berlin and Weimer. Her installations are centered on the socio political and economic structure of cities.
Leena has also been associated with many NGOs working towards issues related to young girls. She has done multiple exhibitions and through her photographs made many books come alive.
Kolkata is one city that stays close to her heart and Leena has captured the city and its aura through the lens of her camera.
From star hotels to book covers to exhibitions, Leena’s made her presence felt in the world of art. She has used her work for some very important causes and used art to deliver an important social message.
HerStory spoke with Leena Kejriwal about her work and especially the M.I.S.S.I.N.G project she is currently working on.
HS: Tell us about project M.I.S.S.I.N.G and what are you planning to do with it?
Leena: M.I.S.S.I.N.G is a public art project addressing the issue of the millions of girls disappearing from the face of the earth. The campaign is an art and awareness campaign on the issue of sex trafficking and the multiple girls who are lost to this trade.
The figures for sex trafficking are very alarming and the average age of girls disappearing into sexual exploitation is between 9 and 12 years in India. The issue is all ready tipping our gender statistics and will be endangering our future generations sooner then we can imagine.
The work consists of larger than life fiberglass structures set against the sky in prominent skylines in a city. They are silhouettes of young girls, which once they are set against the sky seem like sharp cut outs in the sky, cut outs which are doorways to black holes into which millions of girls disappear from the face of the earth!
These silhouettes are in at least eight-10 cities across India. And there is a Missing App, which goes with the work. The App takes you to an augmented reality animation, which tells you something, more about the girl. The end screen takes you to a list of current petitions, which one can sign, and help in making the laws stronger and a list of nearby NGOs, which one can contact and help. With it there are other links that help in creating more awareness and action pertaining to the issue.
The project was launched at the India ART FAIR to great reviews and the response so far has been very good! As this is a public art and awareness campaign I have chosen to go crowd funding to engage the public from the early stage itself.
In the future I am hoping it becomes a movement, as the issue needs it!
HS: Tell us about your formative years and what led you into the direction of photography and installations.
Leena: I come from a traditional Marwari family from Kolkata. My early years were spent at Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ Public School, a boarding school in Jaipur. It was a very un-ambitious and carefree life with no agendas. I went on to do my graduation.
Then there was this whole gap of three years before I was married. Thank God for it as in those years I did a basic photography course and a diploma in advertising but again with no agenda to pursue either formally.
I was married into another traditional family. I think it was all those years of carefree life and independence in my boarding which was responsible for the emergence of my creativity within the rigid family structure. I think it was like a bubble which had to hit the surface sooner or later.
I had my two children within the first 5 yrs of marriage. It was when they were little that I realised the dearth of a good portrait studio in the city. I set up a basic studio at home with my personal savings. I haven’t looked back since. I started my professional life with offering fine art portraits to select clients.
In the intermediate years before I set up the little studio I was asked to help with a book cover for a Hindi book. The book “ Kalikatha via Bypass” by Alka Saraogi went on to win the Sahitya Academy award that year. The book cover capturing lingering history of the city got amazing acknowledgments and response, which was heart warming! This project led me to my first jaunt around my city and it opened up all new experiences for me. I further pursued them and that led me to my first exhibition, my artist residency in France and my best selling book ‘Calcutta: Repossessing the City’.
HS: What drew you towards photography?
Leena: I was always artistic and learnt oil painting at home post college hours. Used to watch my older brothers with their cameras but there was no question of touching or experimenting with them. Then my
younger brother came back with a cam from one of his school trips and I said to myself, if he can do it then why can’t I? So learnt my first basics on his camera!HS: How does photography become an extension of who you are?
Leena: When I first entered into a red light area in the city, I was overwhelmed by what I saw. My camera became a natural extension of me. It has been a tool of artistic expression since I started rediscovering my city. My camera has helped me communicate my feelings, catch the details my eyes noticed, catch the colours, I saw and wanted to share. Always there, ready to do what I told it to do.
For M.I.S.S.I.N.G, too, I captured my form for the silhouettes with the help of portraits of young girls who I am mentoring in vulnerable areas in the city.
HS:Biggest challenge you have faced till date and how did you overcome it?
Leena: My biggest challenge was to enter the art world from the outside, but taking a step at a time and keeping the pace has helped me move ahead within the art world and outside it.
HS: What keeps you motivated?
Leena: The joy of creating something new! Telling a new story and experimenting with a new medium to best express it for it’s a very exciting world out there.