Art and activism have shared a unique relationship since time immemorial. Journalist Bishakha Datta talks about her idea of art and activism, and more
In 1997, Bishakha Datta started with Point of View shortly after the Internet came to India. What started as a platform for women to share the challenges and issues they face on a daily basis, soon transformed into a portal for people to raise their voice about other social ills (including issues about sexuality and disability).
Being a journalist and documentary filmmaker, Bishakha took it upon herself to provide this platform. “It was a time when women weren’t speaking up in large numbers about the issues they were facing, the way we do now online; there was no space to speak up. So since I came from a media background and had friends from similar media spaces, who saw themselves as free-thinking independent working women, we got together to start a platform or an organisation that really help women speak up,” she recalls.
That was the first time Bishakha fused art and activism for a large, pan-India audience. The journalist and documentary filmmaker recalls starting with a huge photo exhibition that looked at how the fifty years of independence had treated women in the country. “And we took this to 25 cities in the country,” she says, adding that the photos were used to portray the unspoken reality of women’s lives in the first fifty years since independence. This is also going to be the subject of her discussion in a talk she will be hosting today. Titled Good Art, Good Politics, Bishakha aims to discuss the fine distinction between art and activism, how the former triggers the latter, and how together they make way for social change.
Through her talk, Bishakha will grapple with important questions surrounding art and activism. Ever since she started Point of View around two decades ago, she has been fusing the two with the aim of creating certain empathy that will finally push people for change. She will be sharing some of her experiences that were a product of art and activism fusing together. Out of all these experiences, one stands out from the other.
It was mid-2000s, when Point of View was ten years old, and Bishakha and her team decided to work on a theatre production that explored the lives of female sex workers. But there was a catch: the artistes on stage weren’t supposed to be actors — the whole idea was to have real sex workers talk about their lives, their challenges and their trials. For this, they spent an entire year working with a theatre director and a scriptwriter. But even here, there were challenges that weren’t forseen at first.
“We had taken women, who were traditionally not theatre artistes, and were bringing them in this artistic space to share their stories. They weren’t even aware of theatre techniques, which they later learned,” she recalls.
But, the real challenge was in how the audience was going to take it. “What was really interesting was that we were asking traditional theatre-going audiences to suddenly see something that wasn’t done by theatre professionals, in an artistic space. We were really nervous thinking if we were going to meet their expectations, because what we didn’t want them to look at these women who were performing and have sympathy for them; we wanted empathy,” she says.
Bishakha plans on talking about such issues at the discussion. “Some of the important, complicated issues that we faced when walking this fine line between art and activism,” she smiles.
Today, 5.30 pm onwards,
At Kitab Khana, Flora Fountain, Fort