has covid-19 changed public spaces for marginalized groups?

how do we remember public spaces before covid-19 ?

how do we reimagine public spaces after covid-19 ?

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Photo by Prashansa Gurung

Through Her Lens: 

The Space Without

Through Her Lens is a visual research programme in collaboration with Zubaan Publishers Pvt Ltd., supported by Sasakawa Peace Foundation, under the Fragrance of Peace Project. It aims to expand women's photographic practices in the eight Northeast Indian states and Darjeeling Hills. 

 

The Space Without engages with the themes of Gender and Public Space using the visual as a starting point. This edition of Through Her Lens attempts to look at space—public, private, temporal— as a site that gains meaning from the stories, questions, dialogues and negotiations that unfold within it, both shaping it and being shaped by it. Gendered battles to claim space—for women, queer and trans communities—were fought alongside larger questions of visibility, representation, or sometimes even for the joy of sipping tea at a roadside stall. This already difficult situation has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent national and state lockdowns, as a result of which even those limited spaces, which women, queer and trans people had access to, have disappeared. 

 

The claiming of public spaces by those in power results in/creates the conditions for the oppression, silencing and forgetting of marginalized identities. The COVID-19 pandemic has, perhaps, made this even more clear. In Gangtok, for instance, queer people could freely express their identities in nightclubs, which have not opened since the first phase of the lockdown in March. In Imphal the Nupi Keithel, both a place of trade and a political site, has remained closed for months. In Assam, women handloom weavers suffered setbacks as markets were shut during the most remunerative season of Bohag Bihu in April. 

 

However, public spaces have also been claimed by these groups through various struggles—from shaping women’s movements, ecological struggles to peacebuilding and organizing workers’ collectives. During the national lockdown and the subsequent selective ‘unlocking’, different communities in the Northeast continued to protest and demand their rights:  we saw the road blockade in Tinsukia district by families affected by the Baghjan gas leak, demonstrations against the construction of a shopping mall at Barik point in Shillong and the sit-in at Itanagar showing solidarity and demanding justice in the Hathras rape case. 

 

Balancing safety concerns on one hand and their need to approach state institutions on the other, marginalized communities are claiming public spaces in familiar as well as new ways. Yet, questions remain –– how accessible, inclusive and representative are these gatherings? How do these public contestations affect the private space, or is there even space to bring them home? What does it mean for younger women, queer and trans persons to continue these movements for identity and representation — movements often born out of the activism of their mothers and grandmothers? How do older women relate to and remember their activism and struggles in light of the current mobilization through online methods? 

 

The exhibition hopes to establish a closer understanding of gender, sexuality, power and spatiality in different societies and cultures in Northeast India and enquire into the role of the visual in helping subvert the creation of this often biased and exclusionary space. 

 

  • How are women, queer and trans people and other marginalised groups occupying public spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

  • How do we remember public spaces before the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • How are we reimagining public spaces after the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • What are the memories of public spaces for older women in the family? What were the struggles, the pushback and the moments of joy they experienced while inhabiting public spaces?

  • What has the loss of public spaces meant in terms of the private space for groups that are marginalized?

 

The idea is to look not only at how the visual medium can represent gender and public space, but also what it can do to transform space into arenas of belonging and alliance. Participants are encouraged to explore the material and symbolic meanings of public space through an intersectional lens: access to and rights over these spaces is highly contingent on social, economic and cultural distinctions. 

 

We hope to engage with this idea through the visual medium and we look forward to your submissions.

 

Photo by Prashansa Gurung

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