Follow Us:
Friday, September 24, 2021

How this artist and her 76-year-old friend are reclaiming public spaces for women in Bengaluru

"Nothing can change overnight. Things will take their own time. All that I can do is start a conversation. We will keep talking about it," said artist Indu Antony

Written by Shreya Agrawal | Itarsi |
Updated: September 7, 2021 7:11:15 am
Cecilia'ed intends to initiate conversation about women safety in public spaces. (Source: Indu Antony)

Women safety in public spaces has been compromised for a long time. But the attempt to make it safer is a long and arduous journey as it involves eradicating years of patriarchal notions. It is important to initiate a conversation about the same. That’s what Bengaluru-based artist Indu Antony had in mind when she started Cecilia’ed — a public art project aimed at disrupting normative notions of gender in public places — along with her friend Cecilia, a 76-year-old vivacious woman.

Cecilia’ed, which began in January 2019, intends to create awareness about the lack of safety for women in public spaces in Bengaluru. It does so by working with neighbourhood spaces that are infamous for being unsafe for women, using the politics of ‘herd mentality’ and ‘celebrity culture’. According to a survey conducted by the NGO Save the Children in 2018, 90 per cent of Bengaluru’s women do not feel safe and fear daily sexual harassment in public spaces.

It was Antony’s personal experiences that led to the conceptualisation of the project. “I was attacked on the streets of Bengaluru. It was then I realised that we need to begin focusing on the safety of women in public spaces. There were multiple conversations going on but they weren’t enough. I went to multiple protests talking about safety and violence against women. But, I felt like we are still not reaching as much crowd as we should. That’s when I felt that there is a need for a bit more consistent conversation about it,” she told

Cecilia'ed Street reopenings continue to remain at the heart of this project. (Source: Indu Antony)

But the face of this project is Cecilia, a flamboyant woman who has been friends with Indu for almost five years. Despite their different backgrounds, the two bonded over their shared experiences as single women living alone in the city. “We both had an immediate bond. We started talking about different difficulties women face in public spaces. I needed a representative for this project and realised that she is the voice that people would listen to,” the artist shared.

The project involved a lot of research including studying feminist geography, newspaper reports, women workshops and discussions with local policemen to identify the places where attacks against women were frequent. Antony added, “A certain kind of city or urban planning is done in a very patriarchal manner. The way a city is planned is not keeping all the genders in mind. So most of the time, you will see a hardware shop next to a car making shop, which is next to a barbershop. These become very male-oriented spaces and there aren’t any female-oriented spaces. So we thought how can we claim our spaces.”

“We conducted workshops for women in Anganwadis and asked them about their issues and which areas they feel safe and unsafe in. We did a lot of research. The idea was to start in one particular area. We chose ward number 24 as the primary starting point and then translated the project to different parts of Bengaluru,” she said.

They identified gendered spaces like salons and bars and reopened them using ceremonial shows using Cecilia. It employed the use of comic books, lithograph posters, dolls and other merchandise along with photoshoots and social media outreach to spread the message across. Further, pamphlets and small TV videos in both Kannada and English were spread in local areas to create awareness about the issue and the project.

Cecilia'ed Indu Antony started this project with the aim to begin a conversation about this pertinent issue. (Source: Indu Antony)

Explaining the same, she said, “Like brands have brand ambassadors, we needed a certain person who can become the face of this important project who people could listen, talk and look up to. I transformed Cecilia into a celebrity and conducted activities like street reopenings and open bar nights to create an audience for the issue of women safety. We also marked her presence on various social media platforms. She loves dressing up and designed all her clothes herself.”

Street reopening continued to remain at the heart of this project. It was an innovative effort to reclaim spaces for women in public areas. Antony said, “We would recognise spaces where a lot of such accidents were happening and we would get into that space. We would call it street reopening by cutting the ribbon and putting a stage to talk about what’s happening in that area. We also collaborated with Google to mark those spaces on google maps where street reopenings were happening.”

“We also had something called open bar nights where we would walk into small shady bars and claim those spaces. As a woman, it is hard to buy cheap alcohol as such bars are unsafe for women. We don’t have access to these bars. The idea was to reclaim them and have those conversations,” she added.

The project looked at all possible means to help women and spread awareness. From multiple WhatsApp groups to women workshops and a toll-free helpline number, the project steered conversations through various mediums.

“Women workshops were conducted every second Saturday of the month where women from the area would come and we would have conversations about the various things happenings there. During these meets, the local policemen would come and install the Suraksha app on our phones. Additionally, we released a toll-free number where people would call and talk about their experiences or seek help. We would direct those requests towards respective NGOs.”

The project which was funded by the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) in its initial year not just created awareness but also bore fruits in the form of the government’s permission to open Bangalore’s first-ever women library.

Due to Covid-19, the fund for the library was moved to other places. However, we will get back on track by the end of this year or early next year,” the artist said.

“Nothing can change overnight. Things will take their own time. All that I can do is start a conversation. We will keep talking about it,” she asserted.

📣 For more lifestyle news, follow us on Instagram | Twitter | Facebook and don’t miss out on the latest updates!

📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines

For all the latest Lifestyle News, download Indian Express App.

  • The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.