MYOB: Women and the arts – 4 Stories

I’ve often heard people say  that International Women’s Day is (a) an imaginary holiday cooked up by the good capitalist-commercial people of the greeting card companies OR (b) unnecessary since, well every day ought to be Women’s Day and if that were the case, then there would be no need for a specially designated day. First, International Women’s Day was not cooked up by a greeting card company – it was first celebrated by the United Nations as a day to honour women’s rights and international peace. Second, the significance of Women’s day lies in the need to set aside one day every year to assess, share and reflect on the contributions made by ordinary women towards the enrichment of their communities and countries.

In the spirit of what the UN hopes to achieve, Artistik License would like to share with you the stories of 5 seemingly ordinary women, who are using their artistic abilities to produce some extraordinary results on people, communities and cultures from across the world. In no particular order, this post would like to celebrate the work and lives of Pooja Saxena, Chloe Tully, Roohi Dixit, Ziba Bhagwagar and Avril Stormy Unger. Here goes:

Pooja Saxena (Design)

Pooja Saxena is a typeface and graphic designer based out of Bangalore and New Delhi, India. A graduate from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi (where she studied communication design) and the University of Reading, UK (where she specialized in typeface design) Pooja worked with the fonts team at Apple in Cupertino till the end of 2012, shortly after which she returned to India to explore opportunities here.

Pooja Saxena. You can learn more about Pooja and her work here.
Pooja Saxena. You can learn more about Pooja and her work here.

I met Pooja for the first time ever towards the end of last year at The Humming Tree in Bangalore, thanks to a dear friend, Amber (who co-authors a fantastic food-blog with Pooja called Enzo, the Baker). Their no-bake recipe for cheesecake changed my life, and I couldn’t stop praising them for it. So yes, Pooja co-authors a food blog, but that’s not the only thing she does that had me amazed. Whether it’s running a food blog, working on The Ballot – an online resource that uses design to communicate information on the Indian Democracy and the elections, organizing public lettering installations or Typerventions in Delhi and Bangalore, building book-cataloguing applications for personal libraries or building a free and open-source website that can be used to convert text in the Devanagari script to Bharati Braille, Pooja’s passion for typeface design as well as her faith in how design can help make people’s lives better is something that’s easily apparent in all that she does.

“Design can not only be used as a tool to augment social awareness campaigns, but it can be used to make people’s lives better. Well-designed cities and transport systems, easy-to-follow train and metro maps as well as road signs, culturally and environmentally sustainable furniture and clothing, engaging school textbooks—and closer home to what I do—respectful and usable typefaces for people who use different scripts, especially for those groups whose language and script have been marginalised, can go a long way in improving the quality of people’s day-to-day lives.”

In answering a question on social entrepreneurship and women, I think Pooja rightly mentions the need for more women role models when growing up.

“The more I have tried to look for them, the more I have realised that it is not as if women haven’t done interesting work or great things, but that their stories haven’t been told. Take, for instance, Ada Lovelace or Grace Hopper, who are important figures in computer science, a field seen as being dominated by men. On a related note, last year I had the opportunity to participate as an intern in the Outreach Programme for Women run by the GNOME Foundation. The OPW is an initiative to involve more women in free and open source software. I wanted to mention this initiative because a program of this nature could go a long way in helping young women who wish to work in fields dominated by men find role models and mentors.”

(If you’d like to read the full interview with Pooja and learn more about her projects, you can do so here).

Chloe Tully (Music)

Chloe Tully. You can learn more about her and her music here.
Chloe Tully. You can learn more about her and her music here.

Chloe Tully is an indie singer, songwriter currently based out of Clermont, Queensland, Australia. Introduced to music and the guitar by her dad, Chloe grew up listening to Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel and James Taylor. Boarding school brought with it her first brush with pop music and musical theatre and by the time she was 14, Chloe began writing her first few songs. Today, Chloe Tully is one of the finest indie musicians in Australia with three EPs, innumerable gigs and her music having been featured in television and movies.

I met Chloe thanks to my dearest friend James Wilson, who was also responsible for introducing me to her music a few years ago. Chloe seems to share my fascination for chai and I’m hoping to meet her when she makes her next trip to India. Her last trip in 2013 was a huge influence on her – something she blogged about and captured in her EP, “She’s dreaming”.

“It’s been these adventures – living life to the full, falling in love, falling out of love and travelling that have inspired the music.”

To me, Chloe is a bit of a new age story teller. In a world that’s dominated by debates and difference, I think it’s refreshing to find Chloe’s music addressing the curious adventurers inside each and everyone of us, asking us to go ahead and dream a little, emote a little and of course, live a little. Besides her deep appreciation for the magical and the adventurous, Chloe also has a strong sense of her responsibilities as an artist, particularly one that is often looked up to by fans and listeners of all ages.

“I am no way comparing myself to the amazing-ness of Taylor Swift but I really like her philosophy on role models and have based mine off that. I am an artist and I write songs and a lot of the people listening to those songs tend to be young girls. I have to understand that I am responsible for what I put on my Facebook page or what I say during my gigs. So yes, partially it does influence my work. I want to be a good role model for young girls and I don’t take that job lightly. I should be nurturing those girls – they are the REASON why I get to do what I do.”

(If you’d like to read the full interview with Chloe and learn more about her work and music, you can do so here).

Roohi Dixit and Ziba Bhagwagar (Film)

Roohi and Ziba. You can learn more about SWCD here
Roohi and Ziba. You can learn more about SWCD here

Roohi and Ziba are independent filmmakers based out of Bangalore, India and founders of the indie production house, Zero Rules. Hard working, intelligent, honest, funny and charming, Roohi and Ziba are a lot like their latest film, “Scattered Windows, Connected Doors” – a take on the lives of 8 women living in urban India.

I met Roohi and Ziba at the Indiearth Xchange held in December, 2013 where they had been invited to screen their film, as well as discuss issues relevant to the contemporary independent film making scene in India. I have Muthu Kumar and Priya Kalyanpur to thank for introductions, and although I missed the screening of Scattered Windows, Connected Doors at the event, I did manage to catch it earlier this year in Bangalore. The film, and the ensuing discussions left me very curious – something that Roohi and Ziba intended to provoke through the film :

“The reponse to the film has been great because it has always lead to a dialogue, to a conversation. This is what we started out doing, we wanted to get these conversations out, out of smaller groups to a larger group. So that even if you go back home, you ruminate over what the women in the film said, and find yourself looking with in your own self in search of some answers. We hope the film generates more such dialogues.”

You can learn more about Scattered Windows, Connected Doors here.
You can learn more about Scattered Windows, Connected Doors here.

Scattered Windows, Connected Doors is an independent, award winning film that tells the story of the urban Indian woman through 8 different people, and thus 8 different perspectives. The issues discussed in the movie range from those that are simple and domestic, to the complicated and culturally defined problems we’d rather sweep under the rug for another day. There’s a certain eloquence and strength with which all the women in this film choose to share their stories through the screen:

“We are all different, and yet we are all connected. Like scattered windows of a house that have their own view, we are still connected to each other through these doors that lead us into the very heart of womanhood. It just came to us, and it stayed, we were talking to 8 women in our film, we were working with a key crew of women, and we knew the film will go out and connect with more urban women out there. It was both poignant and poetic, yet realistic and hard-hitting.”

As independent film makers, Roohi and Ziba believe that being able to tell a story is sometimes problematic, regardless of what gender you belong to. Having said that, they’re tremendously optimistic about the indie scene in India, reaffirming that so long as you want your story told, and know how to get that shot, then funding and other technicalities are surmountable obstacles.

“There is a lot of interesting work happening in the Indi space, hopefully the future is bright, if you look at all the work that is happening out of India you will realise that the limitations are not really stopping talented people from saying what they need to. They are just saying it differently. That’s a big leap of inspiration.”

(If you’d like to read the full interview with Roohi and Ziba, you can do so here).

Avril Stormy Unger (Choreography-Movement Arts)

Avril Stormy Unger with Schizophonic (Photo credit: Kabir Ahmed). You can learn more about The Storm Factory here.
Avril Stormy Unger with Schizophonic (Photo credit: Kabir Ahmed). You can learn more about The Storm Factory here.

Avril is a Bangalore based choreographer and movement artist. She is the founder and principle choreographer of The Storm Factory – an independent dance company  that finds expression through the movement arts and collaborations with artists from a number of artistic backgrounds.

I’ve known Avril for a few years now and I met her thanks to Aman Mahajan and Arjun Chandran, two wonderful musicians based out of Bangalore. Avril’s choreography engages and involves audiences in a way that makes them examine life in an honest, yet aesthetic manner. It’s this juxtaposition of brutal honesty with elegance that really makes Avril’s pieces so remarkable. Avril has conceptualised several pieces including ‘Fearless’, a piece she choreographed in response to the problem of sexual assault and violence against women everywhere. Constantly adapting to the environment it is being performed in, ‘Fearless’ is an elegant yet firm social critique on the hypocrisy with which women in India are worshipped as divine, yet often disrespected, mistreated and abused.

Avril’s choreography works on the understanding that conventional as well as unconventional elements need to be blended to deliver an engaging performance – this includes the use of unconventional performance spaces, non-traditional visuals and original music content. Working with a team of dedicated dancers, visual artists such as Vandana Menon and musicians such as Arjun Chandran, Avril hopes to explore different performing arts, with a heavy focus on the experiential and experimental.

The stories and contributions of these 5 women warranted a post from Artistik License due to the simple fact that over the last year or so, these 5 women and their work has made quite an impression on me – thank you Pooja, Chloe, Roohi, Ziba and Avril for speaking with me.

By reading their stories, I hope that you too will find the courage and strength to follow your hearts, and use your skills to mentor, nurture and/or produce amazing things in the years to come. Happy Women’s day weekend. If you have a story to share or something to say, then please do leave a comment.

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