Gender, re-imagined

The third edition of Gender Bender questions narrow definitions of sexuality through performances and installations

September 07, 2017 04:16 pm | Updated 04:16 pm IST

Gender Bender 2017, a joint project between Sandbox Collective and Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, co-curated by The Ladies Finger, will be held on September 9 and 10 at Goethe-Insitut. The grantees speak about their works.

Sukriti Sureka

I am from Muzaffarpur in Bihar and currently living in Mumbai. I am a self-taught artist/painter. I am presenting an art installation, “Berang se rang” is an art installation of Madhubani paintings on a small hut. It’s a simple and small hut, similar to many seen all over India. On the outside it is in the process of being decorated with Madhubani painting. On the inside, it showcases a series of Madhubani paintings which depict several forms in which women face bias and discrimination on the basis of their gender. The paintings are done by various artists, including myself, who are from rural areas of Bihar and are Madhubani painters by profession. While these paintings are full of colours, their own lives and individuality is colourless. The installation also presents a short video which documents thoughts and views of artists involved in the project and the journey that resulted in this installation.

Madhusree Basu

Swachhandacharinee is a story-telling based on Malayalam poet Vayalar Ramavarma’s poem Thadaka. It reclaims the so-called demoness Thadaka from Ramayana as a Dravida princess and brings in explicit socio-political, feminist, neo-mythological nuances to this story. Ours is a re-narration of Vayalar’s poem.

I was a student of Mohiniattam when I first thought of this project more than six years back. I was very intrigued by the beautiful poem and the similarity between its rendition (by Madhoosudanan Nair) and the usual renditions of songs within the classical Mohiniattam repertoires. At that point, it surprised me why we did not think of performing such politically inspiring poems within the classical boundary itself frequently enough. Much later, A. K. Ramanujan's Three Hundred Ramayanas is one of the important, well-known examples.

For this performance, I have worked with another dancer (Anoushka Kurien), a singer (Akila), two mask-makers (Pranav Sreerag and Vijay Ravikumar) and a film-director/videographer (Manoj Leonel Jahson). Maarten Visser has helped me out in creating and mixing the sound. I have had immense help from Jayanti Basu, Ankur and Yadu Vasudev in conceptualizing and writing the script. I see this project as a collaboration among all the contributors as well as many friends and advisors. For me, that has been the largest strength while making this work.

Himani Pant

The word ‘Hysteria’ originates from the Greek word ‘Hystera’ which means ‘Uterus’. In the texts of ancient Greek physicians hysteria is described as a female specific ailment that arises when the uterus starts wandering around in the woman’s body putting pressure on the other organs.

This leads to anxiety, numbness, faintness, insomnia, heaviness in the abdomen, shortness of breath, loss of appetite for food or sex, sexually forward behaviour, hallucinations, paralysis, following with the most commonly visible symptom - “tendency to cause trouble’!

The first step of my research was to interview women of different age groups, who have in the past or are presently experiencing psychological stress. I am specifically looking for women who had or are seeking medical help for depression, mood swings, and anger management issues or other mental health related issue. My research is to understand their backgrounds, seek their opinion on the topic of hysteria, and gain from their responses an insight in to the connection between their conditions and their gender, if any.

This in my opinion helped me gather stories that might have been classified as hysteria in the past.

Hysterical Hysteria is a devised piece that has been based on data collected by interviewing women through questionnaires and telephonic conversations. At Gender Bender Festival a fifteen minute piece will be showcased, which later will be turned into a full length play.

Aarthi Murali

When I came across Gender Bender's call for applications, I impulsively wanted to write about things we say and do within a home - things that we are in the middle of, everyday. It was a vague starting point. But it was also when I was turning to queer and feminist spaces to help me understand the drama within my home. I felt disconnected because these spaces were only having loud conversations about legal recognition, or the more personal struggle of figuring out one's gender.

I wanted to write something that looks closely at families. And more importantly, to find relief in trying to understand subtleties in structures that seemed loud and clear.

I'd start a new draft, tell myself it's the last one, and scrap it again. In the actual final draft, it only made sense to write about the process itself. This is a lyric essay that's as much about the process of writing about my mother, as it is about my relationship with her. It's an attempt to make sense of a relationship, through the writing of it.

Arunima Bose

Earlier this year, I started drawing different vaginas depending on my mood. After creating about 30 pieces, I felt the series was moving in a new direction, one I was keen to see through.

In Full Bloom: Playing with Pleasure is an interactive installation, inviting the audience to touch, experience, and engage the tactile senses with the pleasure of a simple touch.

This work aims to gradually move away from the constant negativity poked and prodded at women and their bodies.


The majority of my childhood and teenage years were spent growing up in the gulf. My mother who learned how to speak Arabic fluently taught my sibling and I the same.

I believe that this more than anything else, gave us a unique insight into the culture within the Middle East. With this experience as my personal history it formed the foundation and reference of my inspiration for this piece that exlores the lives of the LGBTQIA community in Middle-eastern society, because it's where having a certain gender made a significant difference in any given situation. The idea continued to grow until it was a collective experience of not just my own but one connected to many women, and other minorities such as the LGBTQIA within this region.

Finally it is a visual attempt at comparing modern ideas and concepts of culture and the roles of women and presence of the LGBTQIA against historical ones.

Elisabeth Pfahl

My work explores the processing of unexpected loss, in my case a double mastectomy which has reshaped my body at a relatively young age and without genetic ties or warning of any illness.

It is a long journey from breast reconstruction to 'one-on-one-off' to ‘flatness’, from the once familiar to internalising that “A kilo of tissue is just a kilo of tissue” to "Fit, flat feminine and fabulous”! In the throws of decision making,

I hope my ‘mala of 27 bras’ begins a conversation about the emotions that shape and guide one's understanding of self, beauty, loss and healing while the messiness of life dances around us.

Sreecheta Das

I had heard about China Pal from one of my ex-colleagues. I wanted to make the film on her and hence went and met her. The idol making season had just ended (it was just after the saraswati puja) and she was about to go out on a vacation with her mother and workers. So it did not work out but she was constantly there at the back of my mind. Hence, the moment I saw the call for proposals from Gender Bender 2017 I knew whom to make a film on.

It's been more than two decades that Chaina has started off as the sole woman artisan in Kumartuli. It's astonishing how she's still the only female entrepreneur- cum-artisan in that colony. Being the youngest sister amongst seven children, she never got her due from her family who do not celebrate her sucess or her journey. But her passion to stick on to the art has rewarded her with a family outside of her family: her workers. she is a "didi" (elder sister) to all of them.

Shilpa Kothakota

In an attempt to portray ‘Yellamma’ and ‘Dasappa’, Siddhanth and I embarked on yet another journey. Playing these roles meant, to untangle the notions of gender and sexuality starting with our own. The characters and the process changed us irrevocably, making it an important milestone in our lives. Performing Land of Ashes deepened my interest in understanding this form and this powerful deity of various marginal societies - Dalits, Jogthis, Devdasis and Transgender people. We are showcasing 15 minutes of the entire 2-hour play. It is more like a teaser that covers a crucial part of the story that leads to Renuka becoming Yellamma.

It has been the ultimate challenge to condense this myth to its basics and draw the themes we want to portray. We had Manjamma B Jogathi, of Marriammanahalli, Koppal, who helped us understand a perspective of the Jogathi community and how the ritualistic play validated their womanhood. We chose to explore the heteronormative values through queer identities. This greatly helped in forming a new dramaturgy around the central story.

Fields of View

At Fields of View, we design games and simulations to help make better public policy. We are a not-for-profit research group based in Bangalore. The game we are creating for Gender Bender is called Made to Order . What we propose to create a physical multi-player game that will let the audience take a step back and explore the intersecting dimensions of gender, caste, and class, how they frame our view of the world, and how intricately they are bound. Players will have a first-hand immersive experience of the conflicts and constraints these dimensions pose. The game will draw from real-life data, both qualitative and quantitative.

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