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Born In Mumbai, Raised In London, Janine Shroff Talks About How Life Influences Her Art

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Born in Mumbai but raised in London, UK, graphic artist Janine Shroff’s work shows signs of an individual who does not completely get the sense of belonging to one particular country. But she is conscious of steering away from showing stereotypes of Bollywood culture and bhangra in her artworks and interpretations of Indian culture.  Strongly driven by narrative, Janine’s work has evolved, but rich references to gender and feminism remain through her androgynous characters. As one of the seven artists for Saptan Stories, Janine shares her excitement about working on this massive crowd sourcing event in this interview:

You were born in India and are currently living in the UK. How do you find the two cultures relate to each other, and how does that affect your work?

There is, of course, a long history of British colonisation of India and when younger, most middle-class Indian kids grew up on a mixed diet of Indian cinema and comics alongside English TV and books (“Fawlty Towers”, “‘Allo ‘Allo!”, “Are You Being Served?”, Enid Blyton stories). So it’s interesting when you move away. You notice those differences more clearly as well as the things either side has assimilated or erased. Moving here gave me a different perspective on my work both from a European viewpoint as well as from an Indian one. I slowly became more aware of a lack of brown bodies in European art and that definitely made me think about what I drew in a more considered manner.

Profile picture of illustrator Janine Shroff

What is the perception of UK culture and art in India, and in your case, vice versa?

This is a tough question because, like many people who have moved away from the country they grew up in, you have the strange feeling of being a part of both countries, and simultaneously of neither. I’m not clear on what the perception could be either way and even so, the answer would vary depending on who you were asking. It could all boil down to stereotypes I suppose – Bollywood and bhangra, P.G. Wodehouse and afternoon tea.

How important is it to you to introduce art to people who might not normally see it or have access to it?

It’s important that art is not seen as just for the privileged minority. The perception is that it is not relevant in our day to day existence. But art helps us communicate things sometimes that can’t be said. There are also many studies that demonstrate how participation in the arts can make societies more cohesive, healthy and cooperative. You can never have enough of that!

How do you see storytelling as part of your art?

All of my work has a strong narrative running through it. Within each illustration are many little stories or characters interacting with each other in a particular way, but condensed into a single image.

What excites you most about being part of Saptan Stories?

I really like the unknown quality of what may happen with a live, evolving story, created by the public. It’s both a little scary and exciting because anything can happen. My favourite story of recent years was the one in which there was a public vote to name the polar research ship and submarine. And instead of the planned, serious names, the public went with Boaty Mcboatface. You have to love the public sometimes. I’m still upset they refused to name it that!

An illustration by Janine Shroff

 Bird-headed humans and masquerade or plague doctor masks are a recurring theme in your work. What do they mean to you?

When I was a teenager I had a small fixation with Egyptian mythology, animal headed gods and with masked people. It was a way to depict very detached characters in my work. I was also very interested and fascinated by androgyny. Over time that developed into both gendered and androgynous bird people that run through most of my drawings. The meaning has evolved into a more abstract one now, but I think it still retains those earlier elements.

Some of your images are incredibly detailed and full of life and storytelling. How much of this is planned, and how much worked out in the drawing process?

Prior to starting a new drawing, I doodle small thumbnail sketches (really roughly) and also email myself some notes of things I want to include. But, a part of the fun and excitement is not knowing exactly how it will turn out. You have a vague idea of where to aim for but the journey is the most interesting part.

Be a part of the creative journey with Saptan Stories today. Click here  

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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 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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