“Art is sup­posed to make you feel some­thing”

Mum­bai-based teenage artist on shar­ing her fem­i­nist works on so­cial me­dia

India Today - - CITY BUZZ - By Moeena Halim

Like most other

chil­dren, 18-year-old Priyanka Paul took to doo­dling as soon as she was in­tro­duced to a pen­cil. But it was only af­ter she joined St Xavier’s Col­lege, where she stud­ied the hu­man­i­ties, that she brought in fem­i­nist thought to her il­lus­tra­tions and po­etry. Art, she be­lieves is sup­posed to make you feel some­thing. “It's sup­posed to rile you up, it's sup­posed to make you re-think ev­ery­thing, even the norms of pa­tri­archy, so that's ex­actly what I aim at do­ing with my art,” says Paul.

Last year, the artist who goes by the name ArtWhor­ing, at­tracted a lot of at­ten­tion through her God­dess se­ries, in­spired by Harnidh Kaur's poem 'Pan­theon'. It fea­tured var­i­ous god­desses from dif­fer­ent cul­tures fight­ing for fem­i­nist and sex­ual lib­er­a­tion. For in­stance, she por­trays Kali in a crop top stick­ing out her tongue in be­tween two fin­gers in the shape of a V. The se­ries cel­e­brated bold, un­cen­sored and un­abashed women, which is some­thing Paul con­tin­ues to do through her men­stru­a­tion se­ries as well.

Al­though men­stru­a­tion has been a re­cur­ring theme in her work, she feels that cre­at­ing a se­ries is im­por­tant to break the taboo around the sub­ject. “It's still con­sid­ered to be im­pure. Re­cently I was told by a num­ber of girls my age, that dur­ing their pe­ri­ods they were treated dif­fer­ently and were told to not touch any­thing and were kept away for that par­tic­u­lar time. This is 2017. These are girls I've grown up with and gone to school and col­lege with. Ed­u­ca­tion still can't de­ter­mine your aware­ness about a nat­u­ral process like men­stru­a­tion and that hon­estly scares me,” she re­veals. The con­stant fetishiza­tion of men­stru­a­tion has helped cre­ate a rift that has meant that 88 per cent of women in In­dia to­day have to make use of wood­shav­ings and cloth and leaves in­stead of san­i­tary nap­kins. “It doesn’t help that the gov­ern­ment clas­si­fies san­i­tary nap­kins as a lux­ury com­mod­ity, and hence im­poses up to 14.5 per cent taxes on san­i­tary nap­kins in some states. The gov­ern­ment def­i­nitely needs to stop tax­ing pads, but also sub­sidise and pro­vide en­cour­age­ment to af­ford­able and biodegrad­able and safe san­i­tary nap­kin man­u­fac­tur­ers,” adds the artist.

In­sta­gram has been a very use­ful tool to Paul. But while there are peo­ple from around the world who con­stantly en­cour­age and in­spire her, she also re­ceives a lot of flak. “What amuses me is that there's so much of­fence over a sup­posed dis­re­spect­ful im­agery of god­desses, but there's no of­fence over the lit­eral so­cial me­dia abuse of an 18-yearold artist,” she says.

Also the fact that, not al­ways will a dis­cus­sion about so called 'taboo' is­sues such as men­stru­a­tion and fe­male mas­tur­ba­tion be taken in the right sense, and that's all the more rea­son to be talk­ing about these is­sues. “Though so­cial me­dia is ac­ces­si­ble to just a neg­li­gi­ble amount of pop­u­la­tion in a coun­try like ours, I be­lieve change in any ca­pac­ity has the abil­ity to spread. If my art can change how even one per­son per­ceives so­ci­ety, then I be­lieve my pur­pose as an artist has been met,” she adds. More of­ten than not, she finds a lot of peers and even other women con­vers­ing with her via so­cial me­dia or oth­er­wise about a va­ri­ety of is­sues. “It's over­whelm­ing that my work could have such an im­pact and also that I learn so much more from ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence I hear about.”

Cur­rently work­ing on her pe­riod se­ries, and col­lab­o­rat­ing with a num­ber of artists, Paul is also work­ing on a zine with Alok Vaid Menon, a trans femme ac­tivist and spo­ken word poet. “The zine will try to ex­plain non con­form­ity when it comes to gen­der bi­na­ries. I'm also work­ing on a se­ries/zine that deals with the dif­fer­ent In­dian states and shows them in a way that hasn't been done be­fore, I started with Ker­ala and it's on my In­sta­gram page. I might have a se­ries that talks about caste­based op­pres­sion in the fu­ture. It's an is­sue that I want to put forth, and I'm re­search­ing and read­ing up in or­der to be able to do that in the most ap­pro­pri­ate way pos­si­ble.” A me­dia stu­dent, Paul says she might pur­sue jour­nal­ism or go to art school or study pol­icy or just paint streets and walls in the fu­ture. “As long as I'm cre­at­ing art and ques­tion­ing pa­tri­archy (and all kinds of ar­chaic power struc­tures), I'll be ex­actly where I need to be,” she says.

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