As an artist I try to share moments of memory and history with my audience. History in my work is shown from the collective viewpoint of those who are or were marginalized, oppressed, forgotten, erased, disappeared or destroyed. I work with traces, remnants, afterhistories, postmemories, archives, and fragments. Not being a proper witness nor a proper survivor, I invite others to join me in the space of poetry and beauty as a form of language containing a possibility towards political, social and ethical transformation. In my work the body is a continuously changing space of historical, cultural, and social dimension. In my films, installations and performances the protagonist's eyes are closed. She lies down in a state of meditative, symbolic and peaceful resistance, leaving marks and traces of presence in opposition to heroic fantasies of conquest and power.
Nirbhaya (She, Fearless) is a 15 x 5 x 3 feet public, outdoor, permanent sculpture/monument resembling an ancient stone sarcophagus, filled with water. As we approach Nirbhaya and bend towards the surface of water, we see the projected video image of a life-scale woman in long black dress, seemingly suspended inside water. Her hands slowly veil and unveil her face as she gradually morphs into a tree, to be later reborn again as a woman. Her silhouette and face successively change, composed of dozens of women from around the world, including myself. Sound includes whispering, speaking and singing voices in many languages, forming a choral composition. The sculpture’s dimensions are designed so that the viewer can bend over and see their own reflection in the water.
Nirbhaya honors the suffering and heroism of all Fearless women across time and culture who endure rape, torture and death. It parallels the way we honor fallen soldiers. The destruction of Jyoti Singh Pandey, nicknamed Nirbhaya, inspires the monument’s name while its shape responds to the European/colonial tradition of triumphal arches and war memorials, specifically India Gate, Delhi/1921, itself based on l’Arc de Triomphe, Paris. I place a triumphal arch on the ground and recreate it as a double reflection/vessel, transforming its conquering verticality into peaceful horizontality and fluidity.
Two sister monuments, Nirbhaya I and Nirbhaya II, will be built on the grounds of The Center for Polish Sculpture in Orońsko, Poland and in the US, organized by Streaming Museum, NYC. An English/Polish publication and website, accompany the project.
In recent years, my artistic practice became focused on the politics and poetics of remembrance, specifically honoring those who are forgotten or erased from public memory. Ancient traditions of public lamentation performed by women across cultures inspire me. The two proposed sculptures would allow this work and its message to be shared with a large global community. The Polish Ministry of Culture, Orońsko has requested the creation of a new work on public grounds. Previous recipients of this honor include Miroslaw Balka and Magdalena Abakanowicz. A second location in the US is crucially relevant to Nirbhaya project’s global nature.
Victorious arches and war memorials represent public memory underscored by colonial power. Unlike our ability to commemorate fallen soldiers who are considered heroic, rape and death of women is omitted from public remembrance and understood as non-heroic, polluting public space. Nirbhaya offers beauty and dignity back to fallen women in order to assign heroic virtue to those who fought against their rapists and killers. By placing down a triumphal arch and using a unique combination of cast-concrete, water and projection/sound, Nirbhaya proposes a new form of heroic anti-monumentality, renaming victims as heroes, while questioning past monuments glorifying war and victory.
The horrific rape and killing of Jyoti Singh Panday in 2012 is a symbolic event that transcends national, historical and cultural borders, standing for crimes against women continuously perpetrated. The world needs monuments and memorials honoring women who have been tortured and killed, the way we honor fallen soldiers.
RELEVANCE TO PUBLIC
As a public sculpture, Nirbhaya reaches beyond the art world. All women, survivors or not, can experience the memorial as an offering of beauty and dignity towards a future without rape. All genders will have opportunities to consider the horrors women experience globally.
Bilingual publication and website will accompany the project with texts by:
Griselda Pollock, theorist, art historian and distinguished professor, University of Leeds, UK
Mark McDoanld, curator, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Buzz Spector, artist and writer on art, professor emeritus, Washington University in St. Louis
Weronika Elertowska, curator, Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko
Amit Mukhopadhyay, independent curator in public sphere, Kolkata
Kalliopi Minioudaki, independent curator and art historian, New York and Athens
More writers are being confirmed.
Several open studio, artist talk and performance events took place to date including at the artist New York studio and at Hyphen Hub in Chelsea. A series of small drawings supports fundraising. Several major fundraising events and drawing/artifacts sales towards the fundraising goals, are planned in New York as well as in St. Louis, Warsaw, and Poznań. Details to follow.
Nirbhaya, a public monument built from cast-concrete, water, video and sound, will generate interest from passersby. Its presence in Poland and the US underscores the importance of global politics of remembrance as well as the disparity between celebrated and erased lives. While war memorials honor fallen soldiers, there is no public honoring of women who fought against their attackers. Thousands of visitors in Europe and the US will confront these themes in perpetuity. A book and website exploring this work will engage the global community around cultural permissiveness for crimes against women, offering a vision of a future without rape.