No easy solutions
Photographer Jasmeen Patheja isn’t content being just an artist. Through the Blank Noise project, she has made sexual harassment against women a community struggle
Photo: Murali Kumar K.
PUBLIC FORUM Jasmeen Patheja: ‘I wanted to use art as a tool of bringing social transformation’
There is no disputing the fact that every girl in India faces sexual harassment on the street. But unlike many other women, photographer Jasmeen Patheja chose to address the problem. While Jasmeen was studying fine arts in Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, she started a project called “Blank Noise”. Though the project was part of her curriculum, eve-teasing entered the realm because of Jasmeen’s own experiences. It has spread out to other cities and is now moving into male perspective. “We are planning to have male-centred events because we need to look at the problem from their point of view,”says Jasmeen.
Through blogs and various public interventions in various cities, Blank Noise tries to educate the public on the nature of the problem. “What I found most disturbing was that people weren’t ready to accept that the problem exists. Having come from Kolkata, I suddenly felt so vulnerable in Bangalore. As a photographer, I wanted to wander, meet people and observe them but I couldn’t do it. My wardrobe had changed from carefree dresses to salwar kameez. I wanted to use art as a tool of bringing social transformation and not something exclusive made me take up the issue.” In an initiative, Blank Noise asked women to take a picture of the place where the violation took place, and upload it on the blog. “One aspect of it being blog-based was that it allows people to speak out while remaining anonymous. The perpetrator, survivor and the mute spectators can share their views on without getting identified,” says Jasmeen.
One of the first interventions that Blank Noise did in different cities was women taking to streets at night. In Bangalore, around 100 women participants wearing Blank Noise Action Heroes’ T-shirt attempted it at Brigade road.
“There were two guys standing there. One by one, all participants went up to them and asked “Can we stand here?” The women simply stood there without doing anything. They only made eye contact with those two men. A 100 women standing there and continuously staring… it became very threatening for the duo. They asked in a tone combining both aggression and humour, ‘What are you going to do now? Why don’t you speak?’ The guys just disappeared. We wanted to explore what happens when you make eye-contact and how looks can say so much,” explains Jasmeen.
Now, the project is asking women to donate any one of the clothes they were wearing when they were violated. The clothes will be exhibited in a form of installation.
“The idea is to take a stand against the common belief, that if you wear certain kind of clothes, it means you are asking for it. It isn’t the case,” points out Jasmeen, who feels that it is not just her project anymore. “It is a collective which is led and run by volunteers across the country. It is never ending I guess. Being blog-based it involved a certain age group, but hopefully the word will spread far and far,” says Jasmin.
For those who feel strongly about the issue can express their opinion on www. blog.blanknoise.org
This column features those who choose to veer off the beaten track
SHAILAJA TRIPATHI TANEJA
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