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Art In The Time Of Crisis: Using The Lockdown As An Opportunity

As the world is still grappling with the multiple lockdowns and isolation measures following the Corona outbreak, it has provided people with ample time to do what they love most. Now more than ever, one can hear people confessing, “this is what I’ve always wanted to do”. Young budding artists, taking it as a mantra, are doing their bit to ease off the collective pressure. After all, it’s about turning to art and finding solace in it. 

While many enjoy being a couch potato, others are putting their creativity out on social media, sans the frills, packaging and slick marketing. They’re spending time revisiting their dusty poems that were left incomplete, long-forgotten sketchbooks or simply making Tik-Tok videos — exploring all wonderful ways of passing the time and showcasing one’s talents. Others are channelling their time and energy into giving birth to newer forms of art, music, dance and literature. 

Art unites people in times of disaster and death, which is exactly what has been happening as the world is coming to terms with this pandemic. Since March, as work from home became the new norm, many artists have started engaging themselves with their art in a possibly different manner. 

Aaliya Ilyasi, 22, a young makeup artist, started working long back when she was studying in school. As lockdown restrictions were imposed all over the country and women were not able to visit parlours, she decided to prepare a well-revised schedule for uploading makeup videos on social media, “First I only used to post videos on Instagram as it’s easier to upload on it. Then most of my friends suggested that I start my own YouTube channel to reach a wider audience,” says Aaliya. 

It was in April this year that she started her youtube channel by the name Aaliya Ilyaslay which now has 400 subscribers and 4K followers on Instagram. “For me, makeup is an art. I don’t do it for show up, but I like the process and love doing it,” she adds, who is pursuing a degree in Development Communication from Jamia Millia Islamia. 

Apart from working as a beautician, she has been blessed with a soulful voice too. Before the lockdown, she used to sing in her college programmes, but now, since everything is shut, she has been using social media as a platform to nurture her talent. She records and puts up songs as often as possible. 

For Unnati Khubyani, a Delhi-based artist, the current lockdown has brought her hands back to the art she had left three years ago. To ease the mental pressure she was going through; she had started to paint and sketch. 

Three years ago, I used to sketch and paint, but with a busy college schedule, I didn’t have the time to do it anymore. Since the lockdown was announced, I took out my brushes and sketching board that was buried under the layers of dust in a corner of my home and started sketching again,” says Unnati. 

For Unnati, art isn’t about painting pictures, but it’s something that takes away her anxiety, aches, dread and lets her come face to face with her hidden creative instincts. “No matter how amateur you are, you should try pouring colours and paint on a blank sheet. It feels productive to see and share your work. I always wanted to be an artist — painting feeds my soul — but life happened and I ended up pursuing a media course,” she adds. 

She is completing her Masters in Journalism from Jamia Millia Islamia. As she drew her first painting after three years and shared it with her family and friends, messages poured in on her social media profiles from different corners of the country: “you’re an artist”, “we’re proud of you”, and it gave her extra motivation. 

From being inspired by others to acknowledging things around us and representing them in the form of poetry, Kashif Shakeel, a 23-year-old young talent, finds his inspiration in the works of poets like Habib Jalib and Sahir Ludhianvi. 

His interest in writing poetry started as early as the 10th Standard. Earlier, he used to write whatever crossed his mind, but as time passed, he worked on his skills and has been able to send some of them for publication too. “From my school days itself I used to read all the famous poets that had long died, but I personally think there hasn’t been a greater revolutionary poet than Habib Jalib,” said Kashif. 

On love poetry, he adds, “When it comes to the poets who have written on love and life, Sahir Ludhainavi’s description of love always touches my heart. I think everyone can read Sahir, but reaching the depths of his poetry is not everyone’s job.” As most people write openly about love and life, his poetry, in particular, is based on things which contribute to one’s life but are too subtle to be acknowledged — things like pens, clothes, pencils etc. 

Recently, Kashif wrote a poem on “pen” in which he has portrayed it as: “Mujhe yaad bhi nahi hai, par shayad guzre baras ya mahiney usne mujhe dafnaa diya thaa, uske baste ke kissi kone mei pada raha cheekh raha thaa. Jadid takanikee ki bheed mei meri awaaz dabb chuki hai, Ab to jaise iss kaal kothri ki aadat si hogyi hai (I don’t exactly remember when, but I think years or months have passed since he buried me, I was yelling at him lying inside a corner of his sack. My voice was lost amidst the chaos of modern technologies, and now it feels like I’m habituated and acquainted to this darkness)”. 

For Kashif, poetry is not merely a piece of paper-work. It’s an intuition whose every verse touches his heart and each verse itself is a poem. “Poetry is such a piece of literature whose every verse should go through your heart, but people will only love it with translation, poetry has its own language, the originality of poetry is its individuality,” describes Kashif.  

As the current lockdown has put people into isolation, it has led to an increase in stress levels. People are suffering from mental illnesses. He suggests that people should go through the treasures of famous poets, which can, in a way, help ease their stress. As is said, when you hear out someone else’s pain, your own seems comparatively smaller. 

Whenever I talk to someone who is under some stress or any problem, I suggest that they go through the poems of famous poets. It seems that whatever possibly could be of human interest, mostly related to our daily lives — has been put to meaning by them, and when we read it all, our sky-high problems appear small,” he adds. 

Currently, Kashif is making a visual document of all his poetic work, as for him, people are now more interested in visuals rather than reading poems.

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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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