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Art Can Change The World, But Only If People Get To See It

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By Sukant Khurana:

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Should art reflect the state of society? Should society reflect in art? Are the two invisibly tied together such that this mutual reflection is only natural? Is the absence of such reflection an anomaly? Should art only provide entertainment? Should “deep and meaningful art” be gloomy and morbid or have an element that must be beyond observer’s comprehension? Is every anti-entertainment kind of entertainment art? Does art need intellectual comprehension? Can art be as divergent as people, society, context, and time? Should art be confined in narrow boundaries with limiting questions about its nature and purpose? Should society be so stifling and close, that even the nature and purpose of human life is straight-jacketed? Can a straight jacketed society produce meaningful art as its reflection or only as reaction to reality?

Can art or writing provoke questioning in a society that’s wallowing in an abyss of horror 24×7 with news blaring about rapes; murder; corruption; religious, regional, and ethnic bigotry – a persistent aura of malaise? Can you awaken a society where a PR campaign is a sufficient replacement for real sustainable development? Can art catalyse revolutionary actions, where people are too busy looking at horoscopes for a turn of events and finding too many holy cows and scapegoats to limit society’s progress? Can art replace deeper spirituality in society, where religious conmen provide instant spirituality medley? Can art wake up a comatose elephant?

Can art: dirty, filthy, prostituted, bourgeois high-art – art that belongs only to the rich just to be displayed in rich galleries, who use ownership of necessarily expensive art as a proxy for suaveness and culture, can that art provide tools for societal introspection? If high art is incapable of introspection due to its golden shackles, can then lowly, liberated art of protest, one of the masses, the proletariats – the frequently unsightly street art be the means to introspect? While introspection is necessary, is it sufficient or even partially capable without extrospection? Can art be local and confined within time in an increasingly global, globalized, and accessible world? Does art belong to galleries and patrons only, where it is housed because the price was right or does it also equally belong to social media where people do not pay a penny but get partial exposure to the work and maybe also an appreciation of the gallery or the patron that hosts such art? Does the burden of survival on the artist deprive art of its full potential of social transformation or can the present age remove these unnecessary handcuffs?

Does art always need to adapt a relatable form to provoke, move, stir, titillate, and sooth, or can art simply exist as an accidental outcome of creative effort? Is art wingless without a fixed form? Is the discussion of abstraction, symbolism, realism, hyperrealism- a pet peeve of critiques – an utterly rubbish and meaningless enterprise? I am inclined to think so. Defining art in the form of styles and tools is reducing it to drudgery. Art is meaningful in its purpose and constant search for new purposes.

Those who believe high abstract art cannot reflect on society have not had the sobering and fulfilling experience of sitting in front of a Rothko for hours. Those who believe street art is lowly must have not witnessed power of Banksy’s protests that can send shudders down the spine. Those who are preoccupied with distinctions between high and low art should be given more laurels by different stifling authoritarian ivory tower structures that pretend to know a thing or two about art but should be discouraged from talking to artists or common folks. These critiques should be encouraged to rub their chin more thoughtfully than ever before, pretending to be the arbiter of deciding how and why an artist has created something and judging the historical context of particular pieces of art but they have no role to play in a new explosion of art.

For those of us who are indifferent about distinctions in art and are reluctant to academize human creativity by demarcating a careful distinction between art and life – no matter what is created from our tumultuous churning (introspections and extrospections of an artist’s soul and society) – whether it is a song, novel, abstract work, caricature, digital or hand crafted, team made or individually created – it is only worth the emotions it churns in us.

There is an urgent need for dialogue. Those who are concerned with blasphemy of mocking art patrons or critiques might not find such a dialogue tempting, but I suspect that those who are invested in humanity, irrespective of their geographic, economic, social standing, would find this discussion meaningful. Those who want to think about life, art, and society, whether they come with an intention to own art, stare at it or merely use it as a backdrop for interesting conversation, would find an open invitation from me welcome.

To such friends here is an invitation to think, interact and communicate by joining like-minded souls. I have had the opportunity to interact with some that belong to this bunch, liberating art from galleries and taking them to streets, in one of the first ever street art events in India back in 2014. I would encourage people to visit such exhibitions, starting with Pratibimb – Reflections at Lalit Kala Akademi. The most important factor is to get involved in a dialogue to celebrate the multitudes in society and art, ones that have been explored and ones that remain to be explored.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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