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Breaking gender stereotypes and depicting the daily struggle of the Indian woman using street art

Sanjana Ray
11th Sep 2016
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For too long now, our country has categorically placed graffiti or street art as an act of vandalism, rebellion and disrespect. In states like West Bengal, wall art was deemed a crime with the ‘offenders’ having to pay a hardy fine of Rs 1,000 or more.

Artists have had to take to the covers of the night to unleash their art to the world and leave it anonymous, in fear of retribution. They’ve visited the same spot the next day only to see that the wall has been whitewashed by the local figures, who don’t want their name tarnished by the ‘law’.

buzzfeed.com

Image credits: buzzfeed.com

The ‘law’ has time and time again beaten and restrained our creative liberties and freedoms, all the while claiming that it did so to ‘protect itself’ from anarchy. Ironically, wall art in our country is not a modern-day phenomenon. The walls of the Ajanta-Ellora Caves, the Sun Temple in Konark and the Khajuraho temples — all of which are heritage monuments of our country — are adorned with stone carvings of sensual and erotic figures and shapes. Depicting stories through street art has been one of the most valuable parts of our cultural legacy. So when this age-old practice is exercised by some, is it right for them to be penalised?

Keeping with the times, the central authority has been forced to adopt a new attitude towards street art and graphics. It has deemed that as long as their art doesn’t propagate a flagrant anti-government or anti-social message, artists will not face any trouble. With this newly allowed flexibility in the system, artists all over the country are making it their personal mission to propagate social messages through their art; and what better way to do it than take it to the streets?

Although this ‘social art’ is now seen in plenty, we’d like to focus on the ones that carry important messages regarding the stark reality of women in India. The various artists behind this genre have a specific motive in mind — to educate the masses, through art, about the infinite struggle of being a woman in this country. At the same time, they also strive to make people aware of the changing tides in society today — that it is finally opening its mind to the empowerment of women.

So, even if you’re a Picasso in the making or a good old Joe who can’t differentiate between a leg and an arm, here are a few artists and programmes you should follow that are attempting to change the face of society for women one brush at a time.

Laadli

‘Laadli’ is a campaign for the girl-child that was launched by ‘Population First’, a Mumbai-based NGO, in June 2005 to address the problem of the falling sex-ratio in the country. The NGO aimed to work towards promoting a positive image of the girl child and teach her to counter her undervalued position in a patriarchal society. Thus, they decided to employ artists from various schools, colleges and offices to help depict their motive through artwork spaced through the many walls of the city. The artists have used nursery rhymes like Humpty Dumpty and London Bridge, where they have morphed the characters with the male(Mars) and female(Venus) gender symbols. They have even presented clichéd perceptions of women, images, slogans, captions and even games to get the message across. One of their most notable efforts is the two-dimensional wall-art of ‘Ardhanareeshwar’, or the ‘half-man-half-woman’ form of Lord Shiva, where the artist has cleverly given a little more than half of the space to his male form to attract people’s attention towards the skewed sex ratio in India.

Leena Kejriwal

This photographer-cum-installation artist got everyone’s attention with her famous art-project ‘M.I.S.S.I.N.G…’, which is a public art project that addresses the issue of sex-trafficking in our country. Kejriwal, who has been working in association with NGOs fighting sex trafficking and child prostitution for the past few years, realised that the way to bring this pertinent issue to the public, was by creating mystery in their minds.

Kejriwal’s work contained larger-than-life fibreglass structures that were set against the sky in prominent skylines of the city. These were the silhouettes of young girls, that when set against the sky, appear as sharp cut-outs in the sky. The mystifying part of this artwork is that these cut-outs appear as doorways to black holes, representative of the ‘black holes that millions of girls disappear into from the face of the earth’. Until she revealed this, people of the eight to ten cities that these silhouettes occupied were left speculating the possible meaning of these silhouettes. Kejriwal smartly synced her artwork with a ‘Missing App’ that takes users to an augmented reality animation, which tells them more about the girl in question. Following the display of this information, the end-screen of the app takes users to a list of current petitions which they can sign and help in making the laws stronger. It also provides a list of nearby NGOs, which they can contact and help. There are also other links that help in creating more awareness and action pertaining to this issue.

Jheel Goradia

This 21-year-old multimedia designer from Mumbai, graduated from Raffles Design International and has been turning heads with her project #BreakingTheSilence. She paints iconic images of Bollywood characters on the walls, using some largely sexist songs and countering these songs in a thought bubble or a caption around the character. She illustrates the posters digitally, prints and cuts them separately and then wheat-pastes (made by mixing wheat flour, sugar and water) them on various locations in Mumbai. She uses Bollywood icons to make the theme more attractive and relatable to the crowds.

Jheel began this project as part of her academic curriculum in her final year at university, and it aims to encourage women to speak up against the many injustices that the society forces them to face on a daily basis. The project covers themes like rape, prostitution, eve-teasing, LGBT rights and gender equality.

"I used street art as a medium to convey my message because I wanted my messages to be rebellious, unavoidable and in-the-face for everybody. All of this inspired me to create this campaign, which would be a voice for all those women whose voices have been suppressed by the society,” says Jheel in a statement made to News18.

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