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Dharavi's sarees of hope

As the Shakti Mills rape cases grab headlines, Provoke/Protect, an exhibition reflects this ordeal by creating embroidered slogans on sarees. Created by 10 women from Dharavi after the rape of the Delhi student in 2012, this venture was backed by textile artists, Nika Feldman and Susie Vickery 

Susie Vickery, textile artist of the Provoke/Protect initiative >> 

Q. What was your experience of working on this project?
A. It was an enriching experience to see how women reacted to the question of whether a rape survivor or victim provoked the act of rape or not. They were given some homework of asking their neighbours as well as introspecting on the connection between a woman’s dressing choices and the occurrence of rape.

While some women who worked on this project were aware of how a woman is blamed in a patriarchal set-up, it was an eye-opener for others. They paid more attention to their own responses. It was exciting to see their craft skills improve as the workshop progressed, and be part of the final culmination into an event.

Q. What was the process of designing these sarees?
A. The workshop had many sessions to engage these women in conceptualising their designs. They thought about using protective symbols from daily life, listed them, made paper patterns of a chosen symbol and conceived original slogans. For example, a saree made by Rutha David had locks on them with the slogan: Lock the rapist, not the woman. Another slogan by Nirmala Punjabi was inspired by the autorickshaw meter: Don't Touch Me. Such a slogan also led women to discuss what qualifies as pleasurable touch and what becomes molestation or rape.

Some wanted slogans in English though they weren’t familiar with it. This was their way of learning a new language while working on the sarees.

Q. When you heard of the Shakti Mills rape case, did you feel a connection; will you start another series?
A. It is always interesting to work with more women and on the issue of rape, given how problematic many interpretations are. Now, that the concept is ready and the public will have a chance to see the actual work; more sarees can emerge from this and address other socio-cultural aspects of rape.

It is good to expand the idea so that everyone can come up with their personal protective garment against rape.

David Osrin and Nayreen Daruwalla, Project Directors >>

Q. What led you to envision this initiative?
A. Our previous art and health project, Dekha Undekha, had been popular; and we thought that the next step could be a larger, longer and more systematic approach to developing collaborative artworks. People responded enthusiastically — and perceptively — to the discussions around the process and the exhibition.
We realised that there was scope to bring community health and art activities together.

Q. Did the Shakti Mills rape case also highlight the impact of this project; is that why it is being exhibited again?
A. Sadly, people who have gone through terrible experiences approach SNEHA’s programme on violence against women and children all the time. The Shakti Mills case was one of them, and together, they strengthen our resolve to make violence against women a public health issue for Mumbai.

Q. What are some of the highlights of this collection?
A. The collection is growing. Apart from Provoke/Protect, highlights so far have been two workshops on comics mentored by Chaitanya Modak and a workshop on block-printing mentored by Kamaldeep Kaur. The comics workshop allowed young people from Dharavi to discuss accidents and injuries by pasting their work on walls in the community. The block-printing workshop explored depression through imagery developed with traditional blocks.

A woman speaks
These sarees will be a good way to change people's perception towards women. We will look at our daughters and sisters differently by giving them greater freedom. Making the sarees also gave me the sense of working together with other women and knowing that we can make change happen, collectively.
— Usha Kharatmol created the slogan, "Keep Out" in her saree

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