The walls at Instituto Cervantes’ gallery now house 64 letters, framed carefully. That’s because they house the dreams, ambitions, fears, challenges, similarities and differences of teenage girls, from the UK, Mexico, Abu Dhabi, Australia, China and India, serving as a gateway to their deepest thoughts. From Abu Dhabi, a girl writes: “At the age of 14, I learnt that I cannot be intelligent with my eyes glued shut with mascara, I cannot stand for my rights in heeled shoes, or speak with lungs choked with perfume. At the age of 6, my cousin gets a doctor’s jacket for Christmas. When I ask to wear it, my aunt says if I would rather be his assistant or wife. I wonder how many jobs only boys can do.”
Organised by Delhi-based non-profit Creative Services Support Group (CSSG) that has collected 250 open letters from girls aged between 15 and 19 since November, these are part of the exhibition “And Still I Rise”. The title derives its name from Maya Angelou’s collection of poems by the same name. Closer home, a poem by Saumya Bhatia, a class X student of DPS Rohini in the Capital, says: “Why should I choose Miss or Mrs, when there is just Mr, why is he the man of the house while I take care of the house? Why is it that he drinks and is accepted by the family, while when I do, I am rejected for not having shame? Why do I leave my parents for a house where I’m beaten and tortured?”
Anand Kapoor, founder of CSSG and curator of the show, says, “The exhibition is part of workshops held with 220 children in the city, to educate boys and girls about gender. After hearing about us, schools from abroad volunteered as well. The issues faced by women are the same globally, although it has a stronger tone in India, which was triggered after India’s Daughter garnered mass attention. It is interesting to see how a girl in China feels the same about gender discrimination as does a girl from Delhi.”
To complement the written words of the girls, 16 contemporary artists reinforce their power through paintings and installations. Using the shape of a foetus as their canvas, brothers Manil-Rohit depict how women are caught in a circus created by men, through The Rigged Lottery. They say, “The rulers of this game are men and it shows how they manipulate a male-dominated society. The sewing machine on the canvas is a metaphor for how women are viewed, sitting at home and tailoring clothes. There are also tiny television icons that show how the media manipulates our psychology and puts pressure on women to look pretty.”
German artist Katharina Poggendorf-Kakar urges girls to break free from barriers, through her installation Spirit (And Still I Rise). In a glass jar is a trapped artificial pink butterfly. A slight tap on the copper lid makes the butterfly flit desperately, hinting at the situation women are in today.
The exhibition is at Instituto Cervantes, 48, Hanuman Road, Connaught Place till April 12.