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Sisterhood of the travelling library

Aqui Thami's 'Sister Library' is looking for a permanent home

Aqui Thami, the artist-activist founder of Sister Library.
Aqui Thami, the artist-activist founder of Sister Library.

A well-thumbed copy of the revolutionary feminist text Our Bodies, Ourselves; See Red, a collection of posters that fuelled the feminist movement between 1974-1990; Menopaws (The Silent Meow), a light-hearted comic book about coping with menopause; historian Uma Chakravarti’s Brahmanical Patriarchy, an account of gender and caste hierarchy in early India; and Brick, an illustrated zine on abortion.

These and hundreds other brave, poignant, enquiring works by women populate artist-activist Aqui Thami’s expanding collection of feminist literature, which includes works by icons like Gloria Steinem and Susan Sontag, as well as under-the-radar writers, poets and zine-makers. Since this April, after winning the 2017 Inlaks Fine Art Award, Thami’s feminist project, Sister Library, has been travelling to cities around the country to create an empowering space for women.

Thami, who also co-founded community spaces like Bombay Underground and Dharavi Art Room in Mumbai, describes Sister Library as an “evolving and generative" artwork. “It evolves with every interaction that people have with the space and it allows for a collective reflection on the reading and visual culture of our times," she says. So far, the library has functioned as a space for browsing, healing, zine-making, community engagements and discussions, and oral storytelling. The highlight of last year, Thami says, has been watching people come into contact with the ideas and works of these women, and the range of emotions they elicit. “It was wonderful to see how older activists interacted with the library and it was equally exciting to have young children spend long hours just reading and looking at works of women."

Thami now wants to give the library a permanent home, and hopes to make these works available for circulation. She has identified a garage space in Bandra, Mumbai, to house her entire collection of 3,000 books, periodicals and zines, for which she aims to crowdfund 8lakh by the end of this month. “It will be a space that celebrates works of women to change the way the world perceives women, and raise feminist consciousness," says Thami. “There are 10 days remaining for the campaign to come to a close, but I’ll probably ask for an extension of another month."

After making stops in cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Goa, and Bengaluru, the travelling feminist library is now stationed at Pepper House café in Kochi as one of four infra projects at the 2018 Kochi-Muziris Biennale. “(At the biennale) the library is presented as a safe space where generalizations are challenged and exploring the collective history of women in writing," she adds.

After a year spent discovering and consuming feminist literature, Thami has also found her personal heroes: “I love Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a nuanced graphic novel on growing up gay, Grapefruit: A Book Of Instructions And Drawings By Yoko Ono, and Decolonizing Methodologies: Research And Indigenous Peoples by Linda Tuhiwai Smith is like a Bible for me; it is a life-changer."

You can contribute to the Sister Library on .

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