I recently caught someone trying to look down my conservatively buttoned shirt in an upscale Mumbai store, which led me to think about how defensively I have been entering public spaces since the age of 10, when a man put his hand up my skirt in a double decker BEST bus in Mumbai. At that time, hardly anyone talked about these things and I kept this incident – the first of many unforgettable ones – to myself.
Some years later, as a teenager, I was waiting for a local train one Sunday morning. I was dressed in a churidar and was possibly the only female on the platform. And suddenly scores of men on a passing train sang a lewd Hindi film song to me. It was just fun for them, but even after I began crying, they continued singing and laughing. From that day on things changed for me – I learnt, like most Indian women have, that it did not matter what I did, knew, thought, how educated I was, or what I wore or looked like – I had to learn to protect my body (and mind) from unwanted looks, words and touches. I also learnt that even if in my personal life I was surrounded by nothing less than wonderful men, when venturing in public I had to always be guarded.
For S** Men, I wanted an image that would convey with some humor the situation almost every woman in India has to deal with on a daily basis: that men may look at her body as an object, touch her inappropriately, pass lewd comments, and in the worst case, mistreat her body with unimaginable violent acts.
The S is for Superman, what many men think they are. Or what many women want men to be – the provider and protector, but that is a whole other discussion. But the S also stands for what many males actually are or can be. Sexman. Sleazeman.
The men in this image represent our patriarchal society in which women aren’t usually treated as equals, or in the extreme, are treated as possessions or sex objects. I also wanted the men to almost be clones of each other – it’s in a group that men preying upon a woman seem to feel invincible.
In the image, the book the woman is carrying symbolizes the fact that however educated she might be, however global or emancipated her worldview, in India she has to always be prepared to be viewed as a sex object.
The glittery liquid oozing out of the book expanding into a puddle is a metaphor for the fact that although education is the only way to alter how women are viewed in India, people’s mindsets remain unchanged.
When I read about the daily rapes in India, I think I have the same thoughts as most other people. Fear. Revulsion. Disbelief. Anger. Empathy. But the protests against the brutal Delhi gang rape showed me that with unity and persistence, enlightened people could effect at least some change in society. But I also realized that this power is usually exercised only when something affects these same people. I realized that there are far fewer voices being raised for the underprivileged and uneducated, who face cruelty on a daily basis.
About Dhruvi Acharya
Using wry and dark humor rather than anger, Dhruvi Acharya’s work focuses on the psychological and emotional aspects of an urban woman’s life, in a world teeming with discord, violence and pollution. In her painted world, thoughts become as visible as ‘reality’, the narratives both comic and brutal.
Born in 1971 and raised in Mumbai, Dhruvi began painting her memories of a real and imagined homeland soon after reaching the USA in 1995. She received her Masters in Painting from the Maryland Institute, College of Art in 1998 and has been showing internationally since then. Dhruvi was awarded the Aditya Birla Kalakiran Puraskar and nominated for the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award in 2006, and was featured on the cover of India Today magazine in 2005. Her paintings have been shown in museums, galleries and art fairs around the world. Dhruvi lived and worked in New York until 2004, and now resides in Mumbai. More at http://www.dhruvi.com/WORDS.html