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With New Project, Artist Orijit Sen Shares The Value Of Art In A “Capitalist” World

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By Orijit Sen:

When I was approached for a collaboration with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), I was happy to accept, as I was already aware of the work the organisation has been doing in disaster and conflict areas for over four decades. I believe MSF is a rare example of an international humanitarian organisation that is committed to its principles, and is genuinely impartial, and sensitive to people in need of healthcare anywhere in the world.

I researched MSF in more detail, and it only deepened my appreciation of the work done in so many countries under the most difficult conditions. I was also impressed by how MSF remains neutral in politically fraught situations, keeping the interests of the needy foremost at all times, regardless of which side of the divides they may be on. I understand now that the borders that MSF attempts to reach across are not only geo-political ones, but those of race, creed, gender and privilege as well.

Besides myself, a group of other artists also created works, and together these illustrations resulted in a series that constitute MSF India’s #WithoutBorders campaign. We were asked to respond to the broad idea of “bringing healthcare professionals in touch with those who need healthcare the most”. While the other artists – which included Sumit Kumar and Anupam Arunachalam – created beautiful illustrations in their own distinctive styles – based on actual MSF project situations in different regions of India, I worked on an illustration depicting MSF’s work in a global context.

I decided therefore to approach the theme through a visual metaphor rather than through the depiction of specific situations. In my own personal experience of disease, pain and care-giving, I have always sought comfort, or attempted to provide comfort, through the medium of touch. So I was naturally drawn to the idea of depicting hands and the healing power of touch. This also tied up well with the concept of bringing caregivers ‘in touch’ with those in need of care.

My illustration, like the others in the series, consists of two images that work as a pair. The first landing page image shows the caregiver and receiver on the left and right halves of the screen, reaching out towards each other but separated by a symbolic border – represented by a dashed line – down the centre. However, when the viewer clicks on this border, it dissolves and the next image opens up, revealing the previously separated halves merging to form a single unified image.

In my concept, I chose to do this by losing the figures in the second image and focusing instead on just their two hands coming together in a manner reminiscent of the yin-yang symbol. The hands are encapsulated within a spherical frame, which is also indicative of our globe. Thus I suggest that MSF’s work is, in a larger sense, also playing a vital role in strengthening humanistic bonds and bringing the global community together in peace and goodwill. I balanced this universalist narrative with a montage of photographs of MSF teams at work in all the different continents of the world – bringing multiple particularities into the picture and reinforcing the organisation’s core vision.

Although we had initially decided to work with grey scale illustrations that would graphically work well with MSF’s house colour of red, I decided to introduce blue and green tones that nevertheless maintained the monochromatic feel as well as the contrast with the red. I feel the blue-green is also more evocative of the caregiver’s medical wear and gloves on the one hand, and adds richness to globe image on the other.

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Projects like this one are close to my heart. As an artist, I don’t like to be slotted into categories such as ‘art activist’ or ‘leftist’. My work addresses whatever I am inspired or excited by. The political or social commentaries in my work are those that are innate to my way of looking at life, nature, human relationships and so on. Yes, I am moved and angered by the terribly unjust and destructive aspects of our society, and feel compelled to creatively engage with these problems. So I strive to create art that I hope will be powerful and beautiful, that will inspire people and touch the core of their humanity.

I also have no patience with people who say that art cannot make a difference in today’s consumer-capitalist world. I believe that art does have the power to bring about a long-term change in the way we think about things. The relationship between art and social change isn’t a direct cause-and-effect one. It isn’t a short-term thing. Art speaks to the heart as well as the mind, and the way it impacts us as individuals and societies can be very powerful and lasting, but is not necessarily measurable in specific quantities.

So, we may have to wait for the day when we can live in a world without borders – but till then, I’m glad we have Doctors Without Borders!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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