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A festival that uses art to start conversations

The  art and film festival is going to communities in UP, Rajasthan to create conversations on issues like gender and caste

At the Sambhali Trust's empowerment center for women in Jodhpur
At the Sambhali Trust's empowerment center for women in Jodhpur (Special Arrangement)

In a 23 October Instagram post, Bengaluru-based artist Girija Hariharan, who goes by the moniker 2flatbrush on the social media platform, shared images of a school wall she had used as a canvas in Bayana, in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur district. The 9x9ft mural, titled Period, portrays a red circle within which sit six girls, each holding a book with tiny blossoms spilling out. As the title suggests, the mural focuses on menstruation and how it impacts the lives of young women in rural India.

“In these areas, they stop the movement and access to public spaces for girls after puberty,” says Hariharan, who has modelled the girls in the painting on students from the same school. “In Tamil, puberty means to bloom; I wanted to paint these children blooming into adulthood.”

Period is one of four murals that Hariharan painted during her two-week stint with The Outsider Moving Art & Film Festival, an ongoing, two-month programme organised by the feminist activist collective Hers is Ours and funded partly by Movies that Matter, a Netherlands-based platform for cinema, and the Dutch embassy. A van carrying artists and activists, and equipped with a projector, screen and sound equipment, is travelling to 18 areas in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan till 18 December, taking art and film to marginalised communities.

Such communities are often the subjects of art and film themed on human rights, says Trina Talukdar, a member of Hers is Ours. “We shoot and make films about these communities and they are shown at a film festival in Bombay,” she says. “But these communities are never part of that. They never get to be part of that conversation around gender or equality or caste.”

The festival, which is being held for the first time, is an attempt to make these conversations more inclusive.“We wanted to take art and film to these marginalised communities, and we had to travel to do it. So we had to go to them,” she says. The addition of the word “outsider” is deliberate—a nod to these “outsider” communities as well as the team from outside reaching out to them.

While the response has been good, Talukdar points out that there are challenges. “I think one of the biggest challenges we face is the elitist expectation that people will want to see hours of back-to-back movies and then have dialogues of caste and class around it,” she says, adding that there have been instances of people simply getting up and leaving midway.”The responsibility is on us to showcase movies that are informative and engaging.”

The core team comprises Talukdar, Ayushi Shriramwar, Anal Jha and Naomi Jahan, with the accompanying artists changing every two weeks. She says the team usually spends three-four days in each place, screening movies, conducting workshops, facilitating conversations and painting murals—in short, using art as a medium to talk about larger societal issues. “It is difficult to have direct conversations about many of these issues,” she says, adding that art and films help start conversations about caste, class, gender discrimination and mental health. Herok Pal, a Faridabad, Haryana-based storyteller who was part of the project over the first two weeks and intends to return to the van in December, adds, “I don’t go in with a story expecting to change things." However, he does believe that stories—any art, really—can help convey a message. “A story is a good way to talk about anything.

Take, for instance, the collective’s mural in Moolsagar, in Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer, painted on the house of the well-known Manganiyar musician Tagaram. In the picture posted on the Hers is Ours Instagram page last week, a woman holds an algoza, the traditional instrument Tagaram usually plays. “In a patriarchal village where art and music are tightly in the clutches of men, while the women spend their lives serving them, painting a woman holding an algoza, a traditional musical instrument, felt nothing less than rebellion,” says the caption. It adds that by leaving that image boldly displayed on the walls of patriarchal rigidity, “we hope to have at least stirred something in young minds.”


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