May 15, 2017


Traversing Experiences was an innovative public art project envisage by two young curators – Manasa Raj and Shaunak Mahbubani, which emphasized on creating conversations about sexual harassment in public space. The curators collborated with three artists – Neha Mehta, Priyanka K and Heena Pari  — to conceptualise an art installation at the Swami Vivekananda Metro Station in Bengaluru from April 7 to 9, 2017. Anoop Kamath, Editor-in-Chief of Matters of Art (MOA) in an email interview with curators, discuss their ongoing projects.

Anoop Kamath (MOA): When and how did you visualise Traversing Experiences as a public art project?

Curators:The project really started when Eduardo da Conceição came down to Bangalore as a Goethe Institut bangaloREsident at Sandbox Collective. Eduardo and Sandbox Collective conceptualized this light-weight portable exhibition/performance space, which was shown at the Goethe Institut Bangalore, and then christened the ‘Museum of Memories’. One of our curators, Shaunak Mahbubani, saw the structure at that presentation and was drawn to how well the structure would work in the public realm, due to its shape and portability. Shaunak teamed up with Manasa Raj, another curator excited about working in the public space, to reimage what the structure could be when taken outside the gallery space.

MOA: How long did it take for the project to materialize? Please tell our readers about the partners who participated in this project.

Curators:Manasa and Shaunak started bouncing off ideas which each other, and also with Shiva and Nimi at Sandbox Collective. From this initial stage the project took about eight weeks to materialise. The curators decided to take forward the themes of the original ‘Museum of Memories’, which was an open call for artwork speaking about sexual harassment. The duo approached Dr Claus Heims at the Goethe Institut Bangalore to support the project and received a go ahead with sponsorship for the project. Vasanth Rao, Director of the Bangalore Metro Authority was also extremely supportive of the project throughout. The project was held below the Swami Vivekanada Metro Station in Bangalore, at the confluence of a metro station exit and a bus stop.

MOA: Please tell us more about the themes behind the project.

Curators:We draw a lot from John Berger’s words in ‘Ways of Seeing’ regarding the gaze the constantly follows the woman. We wanted to bring in an experiential way of speaking about this gaze, compounded by the unwanted touch and the ever-following catcall. This formed one half of the installation aimed at giving those who had never felt sexually harassed in the public and transport space some experiential awareness of how it feels. We drew on the work of Alternative Law Forum and the Unforget Foundation in Bangalore, to bring in a visualization of the laws, a collection of data, and a call for solidarity on the other side.

MOA: Please tell me about the artists who collaborated with you in this project, and please tell us about each artists’ contribution in this project.

Curators:Neha Mehta, Priyanka K and Heena Pari are the artists who collaborated on this project. Neha is a sculptor who works a lot with themes of women’s empowerment. Neha brought in metal wire hands, reflective eyes and a satirical soundpiece on local catcalls to create a corridor that was uncomfortable and eye opening at the same time. 

Priyanka and Heena, both illustrators and muralists, worked together to create a space of information and solidarity for those who may go through experiences of harassment in public spaces. A comic format explanation of the laws, an installation of mirrors calling out victim blaming, a chart for collecting data on spaces where harassment takes place and an interactive call to speak out constituted this section of solidarity.

MOA: How do gauge the public response to Traversing Experiences?

Curators:Responses to the installation were very overwhelming, and prove to us that public who don’t find their way into galleries are very curious and very receptive towards the arts. We had a lot of people, mostly women but also one male student, come up and speak about incidences where they have faced harassment in public spaces. Some women were hesitant to speak about it at first, but opened up in conversation, compounding the insight that alternative ways of looking at delicate subjects like ones that one through the arts are crucial to remove stigma around these conversations. Bus conductors, metro security guards and cleaning ladies all became staple audiences across the three days coming several times and bringing their colleagues as well. The conversations with these practitioners opened up a lot of new perspectives for us.

MOA: Tell us a little bit about yourselves and what are the projects you are currently involved in?

Curators:Manasa and Shaunak are both very keen on balancing gallery-based curatorial work with initiatives in the public sphere. Manasa is going ahead to work on a show at a gallery in Delhi, and Shaunak is curating an independent project at TIFA Working Studios in Pune. They are also looking for ways to take the Traversing Experiences project to more metro stations across Bangalore City.