When you look at Shrishti Chatterjee’s work of art, it feels like you have been allowed into a deeply personal space. In the visual, a laptop and a box of doughnuts are placed on a neat bed, with just a pillow askew. Nearby, a table is stacked with diaries, paper, a lamp, post-its and plants. This is clearly a space where work and pleasure exist together. Through such imagery, the Kolkata-based visual artist and researcher explores the elusive world of the ‘bachelor woman’, hoping to reframe the identity of the single migrant woman in the city. Chatterjee’s project is part of the sixth edition of Gender Bender, a joint project of the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan and Sandbox Collective which showcases works of art around gender as a discourse, construct and a concept.
Yet another work, which can be viewed on the website is Madhuravanam (The Sweet Forest) by Kozhikode-based Gargi Harithakam. The short film takes a closer look at a queer friend, who is no longer alive. “A friend who underwent the notorious 'conversion therapy' after coming out as a bisexual, a tragic episode in a short life. The film will celebrate her existence marked intensely with poetry and other arts,” mentions the project note.
This year the organisers have taken an “informed decision” not to convert the festival into an online one, as there is already a lot happening in that space. “We wanted to allow for the artist to create the work in their own time. And we decided to share a work-in-progress online,” explain Shiva Pathak and Nimi Ravindran, co-founders, Sandbox Collective. It is snatches of the various artistic processes that one will get to witness online this year. The artists will continue to work on the individual projects, with no “pre-conditions of time” or deadlines attached, and, perhaps, when better conditions prevail, these will be shown offline.
While the digital realm might have facilitated collaborations across geographies, both Pathak and Ravindran feel that the evolution of visual and performing arts, spanning hundreds of years, can not be replicated in a digital space overnight, or even in eight months. “It’s going to take time to figure this beast out completely… . In the meanwhile, we continue to miss and crave human exchanges that go beyond a computer screen and framed faces,” they say.
One significant change in the sixth edition of the festival has been an increase in the number of grantees from 10 to 15. “It has been a difficult year and we would like, more than anything, for artists to continue to work in safe environments, feel supported and continue to create if they feel like it,” add Pathak and Ravindran.
The grantees have been shortlisted by a jury comprising writer-professor Vijeta Kumar, dancer and pedagogue Ranjana Dave, playwright and performer Irawati Karnik and transgender artist-activist Kalki Subramaniam. The selections were not just based on the proposed idea but also on the context of the proposals. “Empathy and humanity have always been the ruling factor when it comes to any of our gender work...not necessarily only during the pandemic,” elaborate Pathak and Ravindran.
Among the various ideas that have excited the jury is a project on the launda naach of Bihar. The series by Delhi-based Aamir Rabbani looks at how launda naach’s artistic heritage sets itself apart from generic band baaja. Another one is Resonxnce - Dissonxnce, a transatlantic musical conversation between two female musicians, Shruthi Veena Vishwanath in Pune and Sylvia Hinz in Berlin. This musical diary has been created in response to their lives during the pandemic, “and challenges notions of what musicality and melody is. Is melody musical, is dissonance music? Through a call-and-response everyday, the two artists will weave together the stories of their lives across continents in a sonic piece for the times,” mentions the project note.
There is also a theatre piece by Bengaluru-based theatre director-actor and facilitator Rashmi Ravikumar, titled Amma makkalu ellinda bartave (Mommy where do babies come from?). It is about finding the vocabulary for difficult conversations on sex and desire in regional languages such as Kannada. “There are several dance projects examining the body, narratives of pain, a film montage on the empathic male in Hindi cinema, a character from a Tamil classic called Jil Jil, and so much more. We're very excited to see how all these wonderful ideas will be fleshed out,” say Pathak and Ravindran.
The sixth edition of Gender Bender can be viewed on www.sandboxcollective.org, 4 December onwards