Imagine an affordable, limited-edition artwork that features both as a zine as well as a poster. The collector can cut the pages out, or stick the zine on the walls, send it to friends as a collectible and even wear a part of it as a mask. This is the all-women led poster-zine, titled Fire in the Belly, that the India Art Fair is publishing for its 2023 edition.
This is one more endeavour by the annual event to showcase a multiplicity of cutting-edge contemporary and digital artistic talent alongside modern masters. Eight artists, including Anikesa Dhing, Aravani Art Project, Aqui Thami, Dhruvi Acharya, Meena Kandasamy, Rithika Pandey, Shilpa Gupta and Zeenat Kulavoor, have shared their dreams, hopes, prayers and wisdom for an equal world in the zine.
“We wanted to keep the theme of the zine women-centric as we felt that showcasing powerful female voices from the contemporary art section was important for the times we are living in. Woman power is an important factor not just in the arts but universally,” says Gautami Reddy, director, digital and communications at the India Art Fair, who has spear-headed the project.
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From pain, pleasure, and sexuality to mental health, class and caste system and the body—each poster page is a blazing response to the theme ‘Fire in the Belly’, encouraging readers to participate in creating a new world order based on feminist optimism, and the power of small actions in introducing lasting change.
“I have always been interested in creating works which are interactive and participatory. So, when the IAF team reached out with the theme for the zine, I was more than excited,” says Anikesa Dhing, who works with bright colours and powerful lines. Her piece for the zine is titled The Quilt.The idea is to completely dismantle an image and rearrange its components into a new image. “The visual is made of everyday objects, which might go unnoticed, but empower us in tiny ways. Intervention and the possibility of multiple outcomes are key here,” says the artist, who believes that notion of the process is more important than the final outcome.
“Regardless of what the quilt looks like, piecing it together is an act that reflects the motions of the everyday,” she adds. Though The Quilt is an image that she is offering, the owner of the zine can rearrange the visual, interacting with it on many levels, making way for different narratives.
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For Mumbai based artist Shilpa Gupta, the zine felt simply like an extension of her own practice. Since the late 1990s, she has been on the streets, pasting posters, stickers and photos, or mounting light installations. “My stickers have been on autos, trains, galis, and other places in the city in the past, along with several new ones based on outdoor light installations, flap-boards and t-shirts,” says Gupta. She has compiled an Album of Old and New Stickers, which includes text such as ‘Do Not Panic’ and ‘There is No Border Here’.
“The Zine was a space to re-share some older stickers as they seemed relevant even in today’s situation,” says Gupta. The idea is to share text-based works in the form of small sized stickers which are intimate and portable, and have the potential to connect with wider audiences.
The poster by artist Dhruvi Acharya is like a public sign board that encourages them to: “Value your time on planet earth. Appreciate all you have. Respect yourself. Work very hard. Work smart. Help those you can and leave the world a better place than you found it.” Her intention is to be hard-hitting, albeit a little high-minded.
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For Zeenat Kulavoor, working on the zine has been a great personal experience, “While conceptualizing for the theme, I thought really hard about what I’d like to create for fellow women--something that is not just aesthetically feminine, something that inspires, something that even I can resonate with as well,” says the artist, who is also typographer, graphic designer and art director.
A lot of her work emerges from the privilege of having been surrounded by some amazing women in life. “I have observed one thing that each one of us tends to forget our strength and capacity when sucked into societal pressures. At this point, we women need encouragement, a push to break away and re-fuel the fire within us,” she adds.
Kulavoor, who works with Urdu typography, calligraphy and lettering, coined term, Toofani Janani,for the zine. ‘Toofani’ literally means storm and ‘janani’ means a woman or a mother. Together, ‘Toofani Janaani’ talks about the warrior within every woman, “her fierceness, her dedication and her tenacity to fight the world” for what she wants.
Of all the artists, Aqui Thami has been making zines for a few years now and really enjoys this most ‘direct and intimate’ ways to share artwork. She has worked on a set of eight care cards (for emergencies and everyday use)—four in English and four in Hindi.
“The care cards are intended to be given out in person. They speak directly to both the giver and the recipient resulting in a. poignant moment that briefly alters the fabric of existence,” elaborates Thami.
Together these women are creating a piece of art that has a very direct social message, which responds to the times we live in. The zine sets out parameters of hope and ideals. One will have to see if people are willing to part with their art and actually stick it on public walls!
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