Girls paint town black with a cause

Somewhere near the Fabindia store at Hindustan Park is a stencilled wall art of a girl. Those who pass by wonder what the figure in black signifies. A tour of the city across Ballygunge, Jadavpur, Golf Green, Russel Street or Park Street would reveal more such silhouettes - all part of a project to raise awareness about trafficking.

By Chandreyee Ghose
  • Published 10.05.15
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Sakshi Jalan, Sakshi Bubna, Vidisha Diwan, Tanvi Jain and Divya Somani with their stencilled art. Picture by Arnab Mondal

Somewhere near the Fabindia store at Hindustan Park is a stencilled wall art of a girl. Those who pass by wonder what the figure in black signifies. A tour of the city across Ballygunge, Jadavpur, Golf Green, Russel Street or Park Street would reveal more such silhouettes - all part of a project to raise awareness about trafficking.

Led by photographer and installation artist Leena Kejriwal, around 40 students from mainstream schools as well as NGOs such as Apne Aap and Hamari Muskan have been going around the city, expressing their thoughts through images on walls.

Launched at the Indian Art Fair, project MISSING seeks to spread awareness about trafficking and protect girls in vulnerable areas.

"The silhouettes represent young girls, millions of who are disappearing from the face of the earth without being ever found. At the Indian Art Fair, we used larger-than-life cut-outs of these silhouettes, denoting the black hole where so many girls are disappearing," Kejriwal.

The project is now in its public awareness and crowd-funding initiative phase, where Kejriwal wants "people to notice the stencilled art made at various strategic points in the city and come and support our cause".

Having worked with child trafficking-related issues for 10 years, Kejriwal is aware of the magnitude of the problem. "Jharkhand and Bengal (especially 24-Parganas) are the hotbeds of trafficking. Girls are disappearing every day and sometimes their parents don't even go looking for them. We need to do something to help protect vulnerable girls from exploitation," she said.

As a mentor for Art Mela, a senior school project at Modern High School for Girls (MHS), Kejriwal had introduced some of her students to MISSING and its goals. "We went through a five-day brainstorming session. It made us re-evaluate our lives and come face to face with some harsh truths," said Sakshi Jalan, a former student of MHS who has joined the cause.

"I did a conceptual piece with the MHS girls to make them aware of the trafficking reality. I created a sound box of 12ft height and breadth. It was the 'black hole' where the students had to spend some time and mentally feel the trauma of vulnerable girls. Certain sound effects added credibility to the situation," explained Kejriwal.

"We had not done anything like that before," said Sakshi, who finds the project to be a huge learning opportunity.

The students also got to interact with girls from vulnerable areas and hear their stories. Together, they made the stencils and began painting the town black.

"It was so nice knowing girls from different backgrounds. They are just like us, as intelligent and enthusiastic about life. We had breakfast together and also took part in the groundwork together amid lots of fun and laughter. The minute we painted a wall we would run away, it was like playing a prank, only with a serious message," said another MISSING project member and MHS student Vidisha Diwan.

The girls divided themselves into five groups and stencilled the missing girls in busy public spaces. "Many a times we faced queries about why we were spray-painting a girl's silhouette. There was an angry guard and also a curious morning walker who finally became fans of our project. The guard had first tried to chase us away, but after hearing our cause he had a change of heart," said another student, Tanvi Jain. From tuition teachers to parents, the young volunteers have garnered a whole lot of support.

The students have also taken the issue to social media platforms, where more youngsters are keen to join in.

"I am planning more projects related to the issue. There will be movie projects, a pan-India launch involving larger-than-life iron and fibre-glass installations of the MISSING silhouettes and the launch of an app soon. We are also running a Spot the Missing contest," Kejriwal said.

The first 10 participants who spot the maximum number of MISSING artworks and uploading them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter will win prizes. (Go to www.facebook.com/missingpublicart for more details).

"The project is also meant to spread awareness among participating students. I would like more boys to join our group. After all, we are all vulnerable in some way," Kejriwal said.