Provoke/Protect marked the day that Anjali Amma learnt how to thread a needle. A 50-year-old Dharavi figure who can just about read and write, she appliquéd the slogan Stop Rape on a bespoke saree. She was so taken by her idea and the possibility of developing new skills that she stayed up at night practising stitches and scissor work. She looks frail, but her voice is loud when she talks about the issue.
Anjali Amma's piece was one of a unique set of ten sarees developed in response to the rape of Nirbhaya in December 2012. The idea was to question the belief that rape is somehow a woman’s fault: the clothes she wears, how late at night she is out, the company she chooses.
The artists discussed the issues with an experienced police officer and Dr Nayreen Daruwalla, director of SNEHA's program on prevention of violence against women and children. They worried about how harmful it is when women are the first to blame other women. Protection is better than judgment. Through sewing, they unpicked that old statement, she asked for it.
The pieces recycled hand-me-down sarees sourced from Dharavi's Kunchi Kurve community. The sarees literally made statements, with appliquéd slogans like Lock up the rapist, not the woman and 1000 Volts Shakti. As wearable art, each was decorated with protective symbols drawn from popular culture and socio-religious beliefs: horseshoes, traffic lights, auto-rickshaw meters. Provoke/Protect repositioned the function of women’s clothes as to protect but not to hide.
The Dharavi artists wore their sarees for a photoshoot by fashion photographer Manasi Sawant. On the streets of Dharavi, first-time designers like Anjali Amma posed in protective outfits. A politician had said that women were “painted-dented,” so they wore painted masks like superheroes. The photoshoot was followed by a one-of-a-kind fashion show for a Dharavi audience at Bhagat Singh Nagar.
Provoke/Protect was exhibited at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2014 and at Artisans Centre for Art Craft and Design from 25th March to 29th March 2014.
Nirmala Panjabi, Kismeti Jaiswar, Rutha David, Rupa Sanghati, Anjali Amma, Nisha Bidu, Anita Doiphode, Sheventa Khade, Usha Kharatmal, Pushpa Parmar
Expert on Gender-based Violence
Head Constable Smt Akshata Anil Shatye, Shahu Nagar Police Station