‘Resist’ -- an art intervention -- explored gender stereotyping, ways of protesting against it, and the role of art in influencing perceptions

The figure of a woman with her lips sewed and her hair standing up brought alive the agony of violence at home which is only spoken of in hushed tones. An image of broken glass in digital print conveyed the ferocity of sexual violence while an abstract painting of mother earth erupting in convulsions portrayed the monstrosity of crimes against women in a society where women are also conceived of as mothers.

A plethora of voices against various forms of gender-based violence emerged from a temporal art intervention, aptly titled “Resist”, organised in Delhi over the weekend. The event saw 17 artists, four bands and five fashion designers, come together to put up a protest in unique ways to explore to the fullest the subversive potential of art. In keeping with the message of resistance, the event was completely non-commercial. The personal narratives of the artists were no less gripping in themselves.

Balbir Krishan, an openly gay artist from Bijrol district in Uttar Pradesh, explained how his painting on the fable of Shiva, Mohini and Harihar challenged gender binaries. For Krishan, art is indeed a form of protesting against and resisting gender stereotypes. “In January last year an exhibition of paintings based on queer themes at Lalit Kala academy was attacked by unknown miscreants. The discourse on gender sensitivity has to address the issue of respect towards other genders too.” Krishnan, who visits Delhi every weekend to be with his boyfriend felt very strongly about the role of art in influencing perceptions of gender.

For Bani Pershad, a Delhi-based artist, the personal intersected with the political, as she recounted the difficulties she faced as a young art student trying to find a quiet open space to sketch. “As a student of the Maharani Bagh Polytechnic in my youth, I could not sit in an open space without being jeered at by men passing by. In my work, I’ve tried to bring out the angst and suffering associated with gender-based violence.”

Ritu Kamath, another Delhi-based artist touched upon the social stigma attached to sexual crimes in a series of paintings titled “Diary 05 – 06”. A series of figures drawn in charcoal and ink illustrate the agonising claustrophobia of women not being able to talk about the pain inflicted on them. The figure of a woman flying downwards bound to a chain, a woman with holes in her body and a flower blocking the mouth of a woman trying to speak stood out as stark symbols of this sense of being trapped.

Satyakam Saha, a Delhi-based artist, expressed his response to the ghastly act of sexual violence in the poignant image of broken glass in digital print.

The participants also found a way of reworking the conventional modes of commodification of women to resist the same. Kinang Perme, a model dressed in an androgynous, black and white outfit designed by Urvashi Kaur, spoke about the importance of breaking conventions in the world of fashion. “This outfit is a way of resisting gender binaries. The world of fashion also has to address social issues.” Chinki Sinha, a Delhi-based journalist, dressed up in a colourful outfit and posed as a ‘painted and dented woman’. This was in response to a sexist comment by a Member of Parliament following the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old in Delhi.

The live performances at the event spoke about reclaiming of public spaces, domestic violence and contemporary social issues through diverse forms of music. Tritha Sinha alongwith Ritika Singh, artists with the band named Space, initiated a project three years back in Calcutta of using music as a platform of talking about women’s rights. The band performs a wide array of genres: Indian classical, pop and hip-hop. Paul Schneiter, a musician from Paris who came to India four years ago and has been a part of the band for a few years now, said he was taken up with the rebellious streak in the songs written by the bands’ artists.

Myna Mukherjee, the director of Engendered art gallery who conceived and curated the show, spoke about the need for art to speak to contemporary times, “The idea of art that stimulates conversation is significant in the times that we live in. Not everyone is in a position to protest, but artists soak it all in and portray it in their work so that art makes you feel and sometimes tells you what you have been thinking. A political lens for approaching art is thus extremely significant.”

Georgina Maddox, a Delhi-based art critic who helped in artist outreach, highlighted the importance of artistic interventions in instilling gender sensitivity, “Culture works at a sub-conscious level. Subversive works of art influence the way people think in subtle ways. A lot of locals of Shahpur Jat were involved in putting together this exhibition including the juice-wallah and the local bookshop owner. It was fascinating to see the local population, including people with no knowledge of art as such, warming up to the idea and coming to the exhibition.”