Towards the evening, upon entering the congested bylanes of Khirkee Extension, one experiences a sudden dip in temperature. Possible, perhaps, because of the unchanged towering, ramshackled residential structures that sandwich the streets, hindering most of the natural light. Evenings, however, are also the time when the streets exhibit a certain conflict. “One mostly witnesses men on the streets. Women in public spaces are invisible. There is a functionality to their visibility. That is, they are seen only when they have a purpose,” says Delhi-based artist Sreejata Roy. At Khoj Studios, Roy, along with artist-husband Mrityunjay Chatterjee, is presenting this politics of gender and public spaces through the project, “Networks and Neighbourhoods”.
The neighbourhood is no stranger to scrutiny by outsiders, mostly because of art interventions in the past, such as those by St+art India Foundation. While Roy and Chatterjee have been working with neighbourhoods and different communities in Delhi since 2008, their focus shifted to Khirkee Extension and Hauz Rani two years ago. Workshops and mapping exercises with the women from the neighbourhood led to an exhibition, round table discussions and neighbourhood walks earlier this week. The focus was on how public spaces should be designed to be equally hospitable to men and women.
The village is dotted with their murals, created by Roy and a handful of young female adults from the neighbourhood. With women as their protagonists, one wall has a group of girls talking to boys, and another shows a young girl riding a motorcycle. “Through these paintings the girls want to talk about how they would like to be seen in public spaces,” says Roy.
After a half-an-hour-long walk, we stop by an electronic shop and ask the shopkeeper what he thinks of this idea. “It is quite beautiful, but often, people stop by and ask me what this is about,” he says. Shouldn’t the project include men in this conversation, we ask Roy. “This is just the first step. We wanted to see how men and women both react to this transformation of space,” she says.