Friday, February 1, 2013

Fearless Matters

Yesterday, a friend took me to listen to an illustrated talk about old carpets along the Silk route. The speaker, not an intellectual thankfully, but a carpet dealer, told us the meanings of some of the symbols woven into the carpets- fertile goddesses, dragons, pomegranates, vases; why they were made and the thought and work that goes into each of these exquisite old pieces. The carpets, I learned, were made by women. Not women with an art education, not professional artists, but just ordinary women - housewives, mothers, daughters on the threshold of marriage.

I returned home that night and scrolled through Facebook. The ‘I am Fearless’ campaign had blasted itself all over my Facebook wall. 180 women had made posters with images of women. They had ‘I am Fearless’ written over them. A gallery abroad is showcasing these posters and having storytelling sessions. Proceeds from the sale of posters are going to some women’s organization or the other.

I open the latest issue of Tehelka that I had bought earlier that morning and read two of the stories about women who have survived horrific odds before I had to put it down and catch my breath. One of them is a victim of an acid attack. Another defied the army by stripping and shouting in front of them. I had to marvel at their courage. These women are fearless indeed and so should we, the rest of us be too.

But there is something jarring in the ‘I am Fearless’ campaign. The answer is more than apparent. It is the lack of dignity in the way the creativity has unfolded itself onto the posters. Apart from perhaps one, I do not remember any picture that really stands out and which I can carry within me like the symbolism in the carpets I had seen a few hours ago. All I carry in me instead is a sense of shame about the silliness this ‘creative outpouring’ or whatever it is supposed to be. One woman lives her life with a burnt face, partially blinded by an acid attack, another defies an army. We express solidarity with the likes of them by creating pastiche –  images of women juxtaposed with flowers, pink umbrellas and balloons and a wolf. Then we eat cupcakes at a gallery in Singapore. Oh we are justified indeed. The proceeds after all are going to a women’s organization.

Whatever your experience as an Indian woman, it is hardly an excuse to infantilize the art that you have created ( One quick collage! Find a picture of a woman! Muck it around with Photoshop! Scrawl I am Fearless over it! Send it off!).  Nirbhaya’s rape resulted in a torrent of trite slogans on Facebook, all posted by other women – Stop Rape Now! (hell yes, hear that men? Zip up your pants!) Women Rock! (Yes, sure, tell that to someone who has had kerosene poured on her and lit up). Just as one breathed a sigh of relief when these stupid slogans started abating there comes the ‘I am Fearless’ campaign with its posters. We express anger and indignation at the actions of our men, but look at the way we trivialize ourselves. This should be a time for introspection, and if creativity results, it should be a byproduct of that.

Years ago, I went to an art exhibition on the theme of Female Foeticide. The young artist had created drawings and an installation. She used the Pitcher Plant as a symbol to create an analogy with the mother’s womb. What is supposed to nurture ends up killing that which it is supposed to nurture. I don’t remember the name of the artist, but her art and its meaning are something I have carried with me all these years. Like the symbols in the Silk Route carpets created by women, that have carried their message over time, so too the haunting symbolism in her imagery. As women, perhaps it is not enough to be Fearless, perhaps we need to make a choice about how responsibly we choose to express ourselves as well.

Note: This post is an opinion, my opinion on my blog about the content (or lack of content) in the ‘I am Fearless’ campaign. This is based on what I’ve seen on my Facebook wall. It is not a criticism about the organizer in any way.
Why have I not participated and made a difference in spite of being graciously asked by the organizer?  I think we are just looking for a cause to get excited about. First it was that anti-corruption stuff that was all over FB, the signing of petitions and what not, now it is this. By the time the next cause arrives, the name Nirbhaya will have been forgotten. Positive growth and improvement is always slow and happens by  a series of small sustained acts which bring about change and shifts in perspective.
I am not interested in unnecessary justifications or debates regarding this matter in my comment section unless you really have something worthwhile to say.  If you are a participant whose sensibilities have been injured by this post and you want to get indignant with me, perhaps your time would be better spent improving the quality of the content in your poster.

Added on 26th of May 2014 -

Fearless Campaign
It is not difficult to create thoughtful art but it is very easy to make crass images.

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