Participatory Visual Learning workshop series
The Space Without, 2020.
2020 has been a year of many firsts for a lot of us, terrifying and memorably in many ways. When the Zubaan and Through Her Lens team began discussing the possibility of incorporating the work that comes out of the Participatory Visual Learning workshops into a segment of the exhibition, I was eager to understand how my curatorial process would play out in a creative learning environment devoid of a formal academic structure. The key word was participatory, the aim was to further understand how learners engage with participation as a mode of learning and artistic creation. Through discussion on visual literacy, representation, identity, culture, gender, and sexuality the learners were encouraged to look at their everyday and try to understand what this everyday consisted of, what it meant and what it felt like.
Through the workshops I had the opportunity to engage with some strong tenacious women, engaged in community work, research, education and creative practice. In their work you see reflections of their lives and the mundane begins to shape itself into something quite extraordinary. Their work questions the female form, the space for grey hair, the open communal spaces of their homes and the spaces we associate sickness with. They invite you to question your own understanding of the everyday and the spaces you find pleasure, fear, or thrive in.
At the start my aim was to get them to notice their everyday spaces, to identify ideas and crevices that they find themselves existing in and out of. We often find ourselves occupying spaces that we do not completely comprehend or even want to engage with, however in developing an artistic and creative learning support system, those very questions became a point of contact and ease for everyone. All of these women were coming from very different familial spaces, educational and work systems, but at the workshop they functioned as a source of support and knowledge for each other. Their work in many ways adds to a wider cultural discourse of how women from the North Eastern states understand their identity and culture, a counter-narrative you are invited to understand but not one you can create for them.
Sonam Choden has a Master’s degree in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She has a keen interest in feminist research, social determinants of mental health and intersectionality studies.
‘Drifting away only to Drift back’: The idea of home
This body of work has been inspired by the idea of home and personal space because Home has found me more settled in my expectations. A space that was a separation from home and the identity I wanted for myself, now, well with time and age that has changed because I have changed. I have found myself embracing the solitude and serenity of the space and the images are a reminder of how our reactions to personal spaces, bodies can evolve and change with time. Like my relationship with the grey strands and how there’s nothing more empowering and liberating than being unapologetically me. And that’s what my silver hair is, intimate, precious symbolic of the comfort and spaces of comfort I have around me!
Shushanti Mutum is a Research Scholar from Manipur. She had completed her MPhil in Sociology from the University of Delhi. She is an enthusiastic learner and interested in gender, sexuality, medicine, and theories. Anybody who wants to reach her regarding any academic purposes and research work can connect her through this email address- .
The work is basically on the changes that arrived at the Nupi Keithel Ima Market in Manipur as a result of the pandemic. The work tries to display important changes especially in the space occupied by the Imas who technically are sellers of vegetables, fruits, and different other items in the market. The imposition of strict rules on social distancing norms and public lockdowns by the state government has produced a new scape on the market system and spaces occupy by it. The new market structure is completely makeshift with mushrooming of street vendors everywhere, like a decentralized market. Another one is the gender aspect, of finding men selling vegetables in the new market system which is out of traditional, and strong visibility of economic hardships at large.
Alterations and Memories of Nupi Keithel Ima Market during Covid 19 Pandemic
The ever lively and hustling crowds of Nupi Keithel Ima market were at their peak just around the corner of the Yaoshang festival at the valley of Manipur in March, the year 2020. The jamming traffic of vehicles and crowds were so high that it hardly left space for good breathing. Yet, the crowds of this market were reduced
to the utter silence of the cold within a short couple of days. It was the State’s restriction orders of channelizing lockdowns, social distancing, and quarantines with the advent of Covid-19 pandemic. The small heart of Imphal city was filled with policemen, their barricades, and the sirens wailing every dusk and in between daylight. The Ima market no longer lives in the proper market area, the place has been emptied, completely deserted, cold and silent.
…Here the query is where have all the Imas gone?. Has the pandemic caused them to move around or putthem back inside their households?
NO! Imas do not remain silent but have been pushing themselves on any space they could occupy and accommodate themselves along with their goods for sale. The verandas on roadsides, community open halls, and footpaths on the street sides are the new spaces of the market turning itself visually from a centralized to a decentralized market structure, where the market took a new shape fresh and different. However, the formation of this new market structure has not been simple in reality. The economic hardships laid by the pandemic’s new rules of restriction have been immense causing large numbers of Imas to take on new roles as street vendors. Not every Ima in the pre-Covid market was a street vendor, but those who are economically devastated and worst hit by the pandemic have had to resort to selling vegetables and fruits. This has become their only means for economic gain and survival.
A fifty-year-old Ima poignantly states, “There is no point in reiterating how much we have suffered economically due to this pandemic, it has gone beyond words. We have come leaving all our fears behind on this roadside just to make our livelihood, it doesn’t matter even if we have to die from that dreadful disease; if we are to survive then we have to come out, I can’t sleep at nights”. Her words left me silent for a while. The harsh reality faced by the Imas during the pandemic seems straightforward in the eyes of others. For these others, it is a blessing they can get their everyday requirements of vegetables and fruits easily nearby.
The changes that came around the market structure have also thrown some light on gender distribution. Earlier men were invisible in the pre-Covid 19 Ima market; they were easy to notice in between the women vendors or separately in the early morning hours. People hardly paid attention to the involvement of men in the functioning of the big market, it has generally been viewed as a market wholly functioning on the basis of the Imas. Factually, it is true that the Ima market is indeed a women’s market but men have helped, often invisibly, in the operation of this market. This has changed drastically during the pandemic. A man who sells vegetables in a small truck shares his views, “If I keep on selling vegetables at lower rates to public customers then these Imas will not like me, I give vegetables to Imas at lower rates and also on credit basis. We don’t have any problems when women dominate the Ima market, they usually drive
men away, yet if men are also allowed to sell vegetables freely, we would love to but separately from Ima market”. This highlights the plight of men who have aspirations to be a part of the Ima market openly but also want to keep this market as it is.
The pandemic has hit hard everywhere and it similarly affects our Nupi Keithel Ima Market. Besides exhibiting a huge change in the spaces used for selling fruits and vegetables, it has depicted a change in the traditional gendered approach to selling vegetables and fruits in the market. The perspectives that I had of the market has also changed. While it is painful to see the market become so cold and silent, it has also been amazing to see men selling vegetables and fruits on the streets, something I had never seen in Imphal. After all the changes undergone by the Ima market, as a result of the pandemic, has been quite monumental and to archive such changes through images and words is of great importance; this will always remain in the memories of people, especially while they reminiscence over the mixed emotions they felt with the changing landscape of their beloved Ima market.
Yuimi Vashum is a writer and an educationist based out of Ukhrul. She is the author of Love, Lust and Loyalty, and teaches communication and vocational skills to school children with an emphasis on creative writing.
Darkness, the only constant
This project is an effort to capture the poor electricity distribution in Ukhrul town, which is followed by rapid mobile network drops. The town is filled with low income to middle class families, and not many households have power backups for the load shedding that regularly happens. A lot of times the battery runs out (which is the case in my house) before the power comes back. There have been times where certain localities have had to live without electricity for over a month, not to mention villages that don’t have electricity at all. Thus, this project is an effort to focus on connectivity, electricity and the cellular network, to emphasize how when the world is talking about a 'digital era' we are here trying to keep up with constant load shedding and network drops.
Sristi is a photographer and a filmmaker based in Sikkim. Her volume of work is largely based on the portrayal of an
ordinary everyday life which is marked
by extraordinary moments.
A weak winter afternoon falls sideways along a congregation of the village folk collected in the sikuwa after a long day’s work. The discussions range from who is getting married to whom, to how China has been a victim of accusations on what is supposedly a blow of justice from God. This little space has been witnessing random conversations through the hundreds of years that its walls have stood by. It is a little corner of the house from where we can see the sky changing colour and where it stands snuggly tucked within the comfort of a warm home. This sikuwa has etched on its mud walls the tales of many generations.
Sampurna Das is a sociologist in making, and a fitness and embroidery enthusiast. Her doctoral research involves understanding a riparian community of Assam. When not with words, she is experimenting with fitness schedules or needles-thread.
We are constantly being told that muscle, although, natural is out of place on women. We need to look lean and soft, not chiselled. A cursory look into the kind of exercises usually recommended for women will show that they consist only of endurance and flexibility variants. But without the other two components of exercise -strength and balance - the schedule becomes more of aesthetics than fitness.
As I counted on the treadmill, my cardio score was on point but when it came to doing strength- based exercises, I was lacking. It particularly struck me when I was shifting my luggage to my new hostel, for someone who would work out every day I lacked the muscle power. I tweaked my routine and added weight training to my kitty. It took some unlearning before I began my strength and balance training.
The most important transformation in my fitness journey came during the COVID-19 lockdown, as I realised that such training can be successfully practised in non-gym spaces. Earlier I was indoctrinated that to work on balance and strength one would at the very least need dumbbells. But during the lockdown, away from my university gymnasium, I started looking for an alternative and voila! I found callisthenics as the answer. It is a fitness regime that allows working on all the four components of exercises with just your body weight. Reflecting back, practising callisthenics has allowed me to question, not only the taken for granted ideas of a feminine body but also geographies of exercise.
Through my work I wanted to document aspects of my callisthenics journey. I have interspersed pictures of my body and embroidered callisthenics motifs for this photo essay. The locations are from Assam, my parents’ home in Guwahati, and my doctoral field site which is a remote river island in the Barpeta district.
Callisthenics for a healthy heart.
Panchali Bhagawati is born and brought up in Assam. She loves to capture the things of her interest and narrate stories through photography. She is currently a Project Assistant (Knowledge Management) in the Nutrition and Community Action Resource (NCARe) Centre, dept. of Social Work, Tezpur University, Assam. She holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from the Department of Social Work, Tezpur University. She believes in collective power and facilitated the formation of Baha Vegetable Cooperative a women’s collective to uplift the women farmers in Borghat village in Sonitpur district of Assam.
Beauty, Food and the Myth
Born as a girl with brown skin, I conceived beauty to be fair and spotless skin while growing up. So, in order to have fair skin I often spent time following the advice of my aunts and applying haldi (turmeric) paste on my face and body for fair and glowing skin. Brown skin with dark elbows does not equate to a beautiful women, thus in my early teens I was told to apply lemon on my body and get rid of my dark skin tone. As a teenager with acne issues, tomato was advised as a cure. Tomato for me, was not something I needed to eat for its vitamins but as something I needed to apply on my face as a “beauty” remedy. And when that did not work, I doubted my mother’s care and love for not giving me the same skin colour as that of my fair brother. The ardent desire of washing off my skin to get a fairer one led to my teenage years being riddled with self-doubt and feelings of inferiority. But a change in situation and perspective on beauty with the teachings of my mother on self-worth and confidence helped me overcome my negative feelings and led to me perceiving beauty in terms of purpose. Beauty cannot be sustained with outside elements but only through self-love and a peaceful mind
Lubna Shaheen is currently based in Guwahati, a loud and bustling city in Northeast India.
The Sickhouse Stories explores the real and surreal feeling of being in a place where you do not belong. The emptiness and silence of the space inspired me to create these photographs in 2017. It was so different from what I am used to. It evolved over a couple of years of being in and out of places that evoked feelings of fear and loneliness. For this work, I relied on memory, both conscious and subconscious, to create a way out of that internal space. A space that was as bewildering as it was clear.
This work began in 2017 when my mother fell unexplainably ill, spending many days in a hospital where these photos were taken. We were visiting my sister in Gothenburg. But this was only the beginning, and it was when we came back to Guwahati that things began to unfold. A series of endless waiting in rooms that spilled into corridors started. Now the years have blurred. The watching and waiting continues. I decided to revisit this work because although I felt I had left this space behind, I came to realise that it's not quite finished.
Nancy C. Lhasungpa is presently working as an Assistant Professor, Dept. of Sociology in Nar Bahadur Bhandari Degree College, Gangtok, Sikkim. She is an alumni of Hindu College and Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University where she majored in Sociology. She has a Double Masters in International Relations from Kings College, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, U.K. She completed her M.Phil and PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her PhD thesis was titled 'Suicide and the Social Structure in Sikkimese Society:2000-12'. Her research interests include social problems, community development, gender, tribes etc.
I decided to name my daughter ‘Gerel’ which means ‘light’ and true to her name she has been lighting up my world since 2017. From a young age, it is drilled into every girl that marriage is inevitable; so is leaving your parents and settling down with a new family. Motherhood follows soon after, but nothing prepares women for the role of ‘nurturers’ until that particular defining moment when you hold a newborn in your hands. That moment for me was 1st October 2017. Ever since, we have shared an inseparable bond which has gotten stronger as a result of the current pandemic situation which has given me ample time at home with my three year old.
Becoming a mother and sharing this journey with my daughter has been such a revelation. It makes me respect my mother for all the sacrifices she must have made for me. Women are truly resilient beings and according us the status of the ‘weaker sex’ is a wrong notion to begin with. The hope I have for my daughter is that she grows up to become an independent, strong lady who rejects judgement from society and embraces everything she wants to be.
Her face is the first thing that greets me every morning and her smile is the last smile I close my eyes to every night. When I go to the kitchen to prepare breakfast for the family, she knows where to find me. The window overlooking the kitchen from the staircase is where she signals her arrival with multiple knocks on the pane, followed by ‘Mamma, I’m here.’
As a heavily pregnant mother, I frequent the loo often and Gerel insists on accompanying me, waiting patiently by the side, and smiling all along. Occasionally she calls out, ‘Mamma, are you okay?’ She knows there is a small baby in my belly, so she showers me with kisses every once in a while. When I sometimes express discomfort, she quickly reaches for my belly and says, ‘Sorry, small baby’.
My submissions are based on a mother-daughter bond. To keep it authentic, I ensured that my daughter took the pictures of me herself.
Moumita Chakravarty is a native of Assam and is born and brought up in Guwahati. She holds a masters degree in Sociology from Cotton University and a graduate degree in political science from Gauhati University. Currently, she is working as a Ph.D researcher at the Department of Women’s Studies, Gauhati University. She has also worked as an intern under the Indian Council for Child Welfare(ICCW) and North-East Yellow pages. She has always been fascinated with all forms of art and in her leisure time she likes to sketch, read novels, spend time with her dogs and click pictures.
Today the world is affected by the pandemic. The on and off lockdown has made people more aware of their personal spaces and that it is limited to the four walls of their home. The changed parameters of everyday reality have contributed to evolved meanings of the "new" normal. It has perhaps helped to re-value "ordinary" spaces of an individual's everyday life, spaces which often remain unnoticed.
While the lockdown provided an opportunity for people to spend more time with their family, it made me reflect on the inevitable notion of ageing and that even when the world is confined within a bubble, the pace of nature is something that can never be controlled. In the following photo series, I have made an attempt to capture my everyday space during this period.
Thingnam Anjulika Samom
Thingnam Anjulika Samom is an independent journalist, writer and translator based in Imphal, Manipur. Her journalistic writing focuses on gender, conflict and developmental issues in Manipur
One evening, my sky painted itself blood-red
A rain it was that equally fell on us too
Suddenly, the red words were strung across
All the conversations suddenly became walled by fear
Hesitant footsteps dragged more listless bodies
Towards a verdict
You and I, we could hold hands only in separation
A table became our meeting ground
I now stand veiled before you
Waiting for my blue skies again
We placed our hopes at the door
The anxious wait never dimished
And soon hope did grow amidst the fear
Bringing us love and care
Today, the moon shone bright calming the angry skies
And laughter slowly started filling my mother's courtyard again