KOCHI: When Malayali artist Indu Antony put together Cecilia’ed — her project that depicts the ‘safety of women in public spaces, she had no hopes of bringing about an overnight change in the mindset of a patriarchal society. However, she did intend to create a spark or saw a seed of change through the public art project. The Bengaluru-based artist disrupts the normative notions regarding gender representation in public by strongly portraying herd mentality and celebrity culture.
The project features the eccentric, full of life, 76-year-old Cecilia, a celebrity herself. This interesting character sketch, paired with Indu’s research, outreach, deep knowledge in feminist geography, and intellectual interventions brought its undertones to life in the public spaces of Bengaluru. The city has now and then, had a dubious reputation of being unsafe for women. ‘Cecilia’ed’ puts this concern up for open discussion.
“I started the project in the area where I live. I have always witnessed the gender divide on the streets. Personally, once I collected information from the police, media, and the public, it was clear that women are unsafe in street corners, dark alleys, around bars and such,” says Indu.
Through the collaborative efforts of Cecilia and Indu, street reopening ceremonies were held and this is when the concept of celebrity culture came to play. “When a politician or a celebrity appears in a public space, a crowd gathers around them. So, I transformed Cecilia into a celebrity and conducted street reopening events to create an audience for the larger issue — safety and freedom of women,” explains Indu.
Cecilia drops by in a fancy car, in a flashy outfit and reopens streets known to be devious for women. “Once we released poetry on women safety. We changed an electric bulb, that was being constantly destroyed by the men in the area because they prefer the area to be dark,” says Indu. She also mobilised a helpline where people can tell their issues to the pre-recorded voice of Cecilia, and the issue is passed over to NGO’s.
“Can a woman lie down in a park late in the night? or buy affordable alcohol from a local bar? No! I hosted an open bar where a lot of women came and took over the shady bars we picked. The move had an unprecedented effect when it comes to normalising a male-dominated space,” says Indu.
Indu has known Cecilia for four years. The duo meets once a week, take a shot of brandy, click photographs, and exchange thoughts. The duo’s parallel ideas on feminism, freedom and the urge to put an end to the patriarchy blended well. “Cecilia is a celebrity of her own. The outfit she wore in the photographs are all styled by her, and this is what she wears every day. The woman never goes out of style, and at times I see myself in her,” quips Indu.
Art and effect
The one-year project received Public Art Grant from Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA). The project is progressing subtly due to the pandemic. “Since the pandemic outbreak, domestic violence has been seeing a sharp rise in the country. Under Cecilia’ed, a series of zines titled ‘The Gender Disruptor’, will be published where Cecilia is a superwoman, who stops gender-based violence,” says Indu.