Light at the end of the tunnel

Pune-based artist Payal Arya's installation at the Kala Ghoda Festival deals with her frustration at the harassment of women.

About a year ago, when 23-year-old fine arts student Payal Arya from Pune was conceptualising her artwork, a single thought dominated her mind — portraying women who face harassment on a daily basis at public places in Mumbai. The thought translated into a long L-shaped dark passage — an installation currently on display at the Kala Ghoda Festival in Mumbai, which is on till Sunday.

As visitors walk through the passage, some hands suddenly come out of nowhere, brushing against their skin. The reactions are recorded on camera to create a visual installation.

The debate about women's privacy in public places, she says, has caught on. "It also falls in line with the theme of the festival this year — 'Mumbai dreams art for change'," she says, adding, "I wanted to show what women in Mumbai go through this on a daily basis — in local trains, at bus stops, or even while walking on the roads. There is someone who will leer at them or size them up or pass a comment. In extreme cases, they touch women inappropriately or brush against them. The artwork focuses on all these issues."

Pune-born Arya has been studying fine arts in Mumbai for the last three years. The cultural shock she got in Mumbai as far as the treatment of women is concerned, was something that hit her hard. While she primarily works on paintings, she says that instead of painting a crying woman, visitors experiencing the same plight would have a far-reaching effect.

Incidentally, her work has garnered so much attention at the event that three comment books are already full with the feedback of the visitors. Titled When No One Is Looking, the installation includes rubber hands that brush against people who walk by. Most men, she says, have come out of the passage with a changed outlook. "The first reaction is of surprise, then they are scared and finally, they feel disgusted. The idea was to create awareness, which in the long term, will initiate positive debates and discussions on the issue," she says. She adds that the Delhi gang rape has fuelled a silent agitation in the minds of many women.

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