The essays in this series, Challenging Visual Depiction of Women and Sexual Violence in Southasia, are an outcome of a unique collaborative effort to explore the nuances of imagery around sexual violence against women. Researchers, activists, filmmakers, theatre makers, graphic novelists, cartoonists and artists from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka together embarked upon a journey to evolve new thinking around the visual representation of gender-based violence in cinema, the media and popular cultures
What prompted this inquiry? A deluge of stereotypical images of terrified women with their hair askew, intimidating men gloating over their prey and the explicit representation of actual acts of violence made us collectively ponder: What are more meaningful ways of depicting violence and trauma? Is the reproduction and visual simulation of gendered violence the only way to communicate its seriousness? How realistic must representation be to convey its urgency? Are powerlessness and hopelessness the main motifs of sexual violence? Can initiatives to pursue dignity and justice emerge solely from images that jolt, disgust and disturb?
Even as we were deliberating on these and myriad other questions, the novel coronavirus swept the region in 2020, confronting the team with new challenges. Reeling from lockdowns, isolation, caregiving, the devastation of death and illness and the daily business of survival, we attempted to incorporate learnings from the pandemic into the process of research and making art. The online space, fatiguing though it eventually proved to be, also generated new possibilities of collaboration and collective sense-making.
In this series, co-edited by Laxmi Murthy and Pawas Manandhar, prevailing imagery and discourse around gender inequity and challenge the stereotypical depiction of sexual violence on the female and queer body is critically examined through an intersectional lens.
Jyotsna Siddharth and Vidisha Fadescha in Body as a Caste Field explore the collision of sexual violence and caste-based violence in India. They discuss the relationship between sexual and caste-based violence with language and image making from their specific socio-economic, political and cultural contexts. When technology evolved and the world shifted online, so did abuse. The pandemic forced an examination of the digital commons in unpresidented ways. Kathmandu-based Nikita Tripathi in The Digital Public Life of Nepali Women explores the nuances of online
The series also analyses how a seemingly innocent comic strip represents a toxic mix of nationalism, religion and misogyny. In Agent Rana: The Box Frames of Hyper-Masculinity, Nationalism and Misogyny, Guwahati-based graphic novelist Parismita Singh presents her take on this comic character to delve into these questions.
As They See Us is a gallery of images in which activist and researcher Muktasree Chakma explores how sexual violence against women from minority and indigenous communities is represented by indigenous Bangladeshi artists. Could people’s concern for indigenous people, bordering on fantasy, pose a burden on the indigenous people? Does the ethnic identity of the artist offer a different perspective on the experiences of indigenous communities?
In Visual Politics and Feminist Strategies Against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, Subha Wijersiriwardena and Shermal Wijewardene use three landmark cases to analyse visual strategies used in feminist campaigns in Sri Lanka on sexual and gender-based violence. How do design choices in a campaign reflect ideological, political and strategic objectives, they ask.
Glimpses into disruptive visual imagery intended to provoke reflection and conversation to challenge the patriarchal thinking that lies behind the current regressive depiction of sexual violence against women can be seen in Create, Collaborate, Catalyse: Reflections on Sexual Violence in South Asia, an exhibition by Hri Institute for Southasian Research and Exchange.
Read and Download all essays HERE
- Jyotsna Siddharth & Vidisha-Fadescha (India); Body as a Caste Field
- Muktasree Chakma (Bangladesh); As They See Us
- Nikita Tripathi (Nepal); The digital public life of Nepali women: sexual violence online justice-seeking, and the voluble Nepali internet
- Parismita Singh (India); Agent Rana: The Box Frames of Hyper-Masculinity, Nationalism and Misogyny
- Subha Wijesiriwardena & Shermal Wijewardene (Sri Lanka); Visual Politics and Feminist Strategies Against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence