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Bending Gender

In the tiny bubble of a space that exists for conversations, discussions, and debates around the idea of Gender in our country, there are is an even smaller number of individuals and organizations trying to stretch that space. Constant attempts are being made to widen that little bubble, to include more people and minds and to introduce newer ways for people to engage in these discourses. As a topic of conversation, gender is an idea that is spoken about softly, and opinions are often at war across generations, classes, and regions.

A space that not only encourages such ‘conflict’ but works actively in creating more such movement is Art.

One of the festivals that actively work in and for this space of conversations and newer perspectives around gender through the medium of art, is called Gender Bender. This festival, now in its third edition, is a joint project between Sandbox Collective and the Goethe – Institut and is co curated along with The Ladies Finger. The project invites artists and individuals working in the field of the arts to send entries for projects that take a fresh, innovative and new look at notions of gender or approach questions or issues of gender with ingenuity and imagination. Projects include fiction or non-fiction writing, poetry, film, theatre, music, visual arts, photography, installations, drawings, dance, or a mix of media and artistic forms.

Since the previous two editions of the festival, the entries to the festival come from newer perspectives and even newer regions of the world. There is a lot to be said and heard, and as this little bubble expands, it allows more people to engage with these ideas, whether in their consumption or creation. Most of the projects that were created for this festival come from the artists’ real life experiences, and the end result is for it to reach more people and create dialogue around shared experiences. This is not an isolated battle, and everyone who comes within its reach takes back something with them, whether it is acceptance or questions.

Arunima Bose, one of the artists of this year worked in the development sector as a researcher and facilitator on Gender and Sexuality before getting into the arts. She says, “A huge part of my learning came from that journey. My work is influenced by conversations had with people around me, the stories we share with each other; which are mostly around morality, policing of women’s bodies, queer rights, the various movements across the world that impact LGBTQI lives.”

Sruthi Nair, one of the team members of Fields Of View, a Bengaluru based organisation that designs games to help make better public policy, feels “We can come up with fresh ways to think about issues if we understand each other, by having a dialogue. In other words, if we climb into each other’s skins and take a leisurely stroll. In a game you can easily become someone else, get into that role, experience in an immersive way why that person prefers certain choices. And we hope that such an experience paves the way for more dialogues.”

One of the ideas that Sandbox Collective works with is that of gender, and a lot of their work deals with this such as the other shows produced by them:”Queen-size” and “No Rest In The Kingdom”.

What started as a small grantee showcase festival on gender has grown into a quiet, but very important movement in the field of gender and sexuality. Today, the applications come from across the country, and even from across the world, and across genres. There has even been a grantee as young as a 16-year-old in the first edition. Several of the showcased works have gone on to find a life of their own as they were developed into full-length productions that have travelled across the country.

Here are brief notes on the projects year.

1) Ibtisam Tasnim
Ibtisam is a mixed African-American who has lived in India, USA, and UAE and her project for Gender Bender involves a painting where she explores and presents the lives of women and members of the LGBTQ community in the Middle Eastern society and culture.

2) Madhushree Basu
Madhushree Basu is a Mohiniyattam and Kathak dancer based in Chennai. Her project is a story-telling based on Malayalam poet Vayalar Ramavarma’s poem “Thadaka” and is called Swachhandacharinee. It reclaims Thadaka as a Dravida princess, against the popular notion of her being a demoness, and brings in explicit sociopolitical, feminist, neo-mythological nuances to this story.

3) Sukriti Sureka
Sukriti is a self-taught artist from the small town of Bihar, Muzaffarpur. Sukriti is working on creating an art installation, which is a small hutment, the walls of which will be painted by women who are Madhubani painters by profession.

4) Arunima Bose
Arunima is an artist and illustrator, who has worked in the developmental sector as a researcher and facilitator around the ideas of Gender and Sexuality. Her project is an interactive installation titled “In Full Bloom: Playing with Pleasure”. It hopes to initiate the move away from the shame and taboo attached to women who touch themselves, or are desirous of the same, but stop because they do not wish to be labeled as “bad women”.



5) Aarthi Murali
Aarthi graduated from Mount Carmel College with a degree in Communication Studies. Her project is a lyric essay titled “Amma Is In Town”, that explores the dynamics between a mother and daughter. The narrative is built around the things they say and do on a normal day and examines what strains or eases the relationship when it comes to matters of love, marriage, and sexuality.

6) Shilpa Mudbi Kothakota
Shilpa is working with a group of dancers and performers to recreate Yellammanaata, which is a ritualistic overnight play hosted mostly during festivals by lower caste Hindus around most parts of Hyderabad, Karnataka and the Southern Maharashtra.

7) Himani Pant
Himani Pant is a performer, theatre maker and a theatre facilitator currently teaching dramatics to young adults in Delhi. Her project, titled “Hysterical Hysteria”, is being compiled through data gathered through questionnaires and telephonic interviews with women of various age groups and countries. The devised production aims to investigate the etymology of the word ‘hysteria’ to constantly arrive at what it stands for in the modern time.

8) Elisabeth Pfahl

“Architecture of Humanness: Passages from one state to another”
Elisabeth’s project involves the creation of an installation made with bras. In the wake of her double mastectomy, these bras represent an object whose utility has changed from being an item that renders support to human architecture, to a symbol of change and loss.

9) Sreecheta Das
Having grown up in Calcutta, Durga Puja was the biggest festival/experience one could be a part of. But as a child, Sreecheta did not know a single female artisan who worked on creating the idols. Her project is a short film about the one woman who silently broke into the male bastion and has brought about a quiet revolution in Kumartuli, traditional potters’ quarter in northern Kolkata: China Pal.

10) Fields Of View
Fields of View is a not-for- profit research group based in Bangalore, that designs games and simulations to help make better public policy. Their project is a physical multi-player game that will provide the audience a firsthand, immersive experience of the intersecting dimensions of gender, caste, and class; how these dimensions frame our view of the world; and how intricately they are bound. The game is modeled on real-life research and data.


Gender Bender 2017 happens this weekend, i.e. 9th & 10th September at Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan. Details are on the Sandbox Collective & Gender Bender Facebook page.


(Poster credit: Jugal Mody)

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