The very first edition held last year got off to a good start, and went “far beyond expectations,” says Shiva Pathak, co-founder of Sandbox Collective, the lead curators of the event. “It opened up dialogues about gender and gender discourses. We had an overwhelming response from the audience and participants equally. Half the projects that started at last year’s festival went onto become full length productions that have travelled and performed across India to critical acclaim.”
This year promises to come back stronger, armed with better funding and unique art forms. Sandbox Collective have collaborated with Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan to present everything from holographic installations to immersive performance art that ultimately aims to re-imagine how we perceive gender beyond its binaries, and start substantive conversations around the same. However, exploring gender through art is still a novice genre in India. While there are innumerable conferences, panel discussions and so on, a more abstract yet expansive space like art has its advantages in depicting gender, a fluid concept in itself.
“Art can act as an emancipatory tool in the larger discourse on gender and identity,” continues Pathak. “We hope that artists will challenge themselves and the audience to look beyond the established traditions of gender. Art will hopefully find new ways to engage with constructs like Gender. We felt the need for a re-imagination of sorts and who better than artists to bring these imaginations to life.”
And with good reason. With a nation having debates on the repeal of the draconian Section 377, the approval of the extremely problematic and regressive Transgender Rights Bill, and the complex issue of the banning of commercial surrogacy in India, discussing gender becomes all the more relevant for the team behind Gender Bender. “This is probably the best time to talk about the notions of Gender and what it means to us, to start conversations and to take existing discussions further,” says Pathak.
While selecting entries for the curation, Pathak clearly states what the project does not stand for: “bashing the opposite gender or about using documentary evidence or statistics to prove a point.”
Having sent out open calls on social media platforms for entries, the team received nearly a 100 proposals from around the country and even abroad spanning genres like poetry, fiction, non-fiction, photo installations, film, theatre and fine arts. It took an eminent panel to pick 12 finalists (6 from Bengaluru, 5 from the rest of the country and 1 from the US) that will showcase their “new [and] original arts projects and concepts” this weekend.
Installations, visual poetry illustrations, theatre performances, puppetry and more, Gender Bender promises a great show this year. Some of the highlights suggested by Pathak were as follows:
“The Good Girl | Bitch Please” by Deepikah R. Bharadwaj is a series of video installations and artworks through which the artist questions the limitations women pose on themselves and other women. “Private Parts” by Avril, a Bengaluru-based choreographer, is an immersive performance that reinvents reality, challenging your ideas of self and others by tapping into urban Indian society’s dependence on gender roles and forced stereotypes. And Aruna Ganesh Ram’s project “Coloured and Choosing” which is an exploration of gender through touch.
For more information on ‘Gender Bender’, head to their Facebook page.