Helping women reclaim public spaces in Bengaluru

Jasmeen Patheja wants to know why women who experience street harassment do not talk about it.

Updated - November 05, 2015 05:31 pm IST

Published - October 28, 2015 07:45 am IST - BENGALURU:

Jasmeen Patheja, an art student, who was relatively new to the city in 2003, realised that there was something definitely strange about the way she walked in public — clenched fist, prepared, angry and fast paced.

“It wasn’t as though I was being harassed, but there was a constant sense of threat,” she says. It wasn’t long before she got the clichéd apathetic responses to ignore it and how nothing could be done about it, motivating her, in her final year of college, to invite all female students to share their concept of “public space”.

Of the 60 participants, nine were willing to initiate a conversation about sexual harassment in public spaces. Experiences were shared and insights were exchanged. However, after graduation, Jasmeen continued to be preoccupied with why women who experience street harassment do not talk about it and how as an artist she could engage with the public. All this formed the basis of ‘Blank Noise’, a project aimed at reclaiming public spaces and unlearning biases, investigating discomfort and exploring vulnerability.

A range of participatory projects and interventions were built across different media platforms. Narratives of sexual violence were shared through a network of volunteers, who began to be identified as ‘Action Heroes’.

An ‘Action Hero’, according to Ms. Patheja, is anyone who commits to eradicating sexual and gender based violence. Action Heroes are from across age groups, gender and sexuality.

The “Blank Noise” project, more than 10 years later, is a multi-city collective led by its “Action Heroes”. It is still chiefly led by the idea that every individual has the capacity to take a small step to make a big change.

Blank Noise has hosted participatory projects specifically designed to examine, address and fight fear.

“We are building testimonies of clothing to arrest attitudes of victim blame. The “I Never Ask for It” campaign invites people to send the garment that they wore when they experienced any kind of sexual or gender based violence. The testimony will be shared online and a large public installation is being planned,” says Ms. Patheja.

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