Escalate

Giving voice to the voiceless

- Sophia L Pande, Kathmandu
History has too long stigmatised women who have been sold in slavery or forced into prostitution and endured domestic abuse, battery, emotional abuse, sexual harassment, and many other horrifying, deeply damaging crimes that are almost always swept under the rug

Jul 23, 2017-The True Stories project began with a woman in California reaching out to a few individuals in Nepal hoping to start a process of healing. All over the world, even in the ostensibly developed West, women and children are exploited for sexual purposes. Randy Rosenberg, chief curator of Art Works for Change, reached out to the Siddhartha Art Foundation (SAF) in Nepal last year seeking to make a connection and highlight the plight and the heart wrenching stories of the women who have been treated so cruelly by other human beings in America and across the world; and thus, a deeply moving project was born.

The True Stories project began early one morning in January 2016 in a little room at the offices of Childreach Nepal. Here, several crucial organisations came together to try and organise a challenging programme. Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), Shakti Samuha (SS), Sattya Media Arts Collective, and SAF were joined by Lajja Dixit, a dedicated art therapist; the team embarked on helping six trafficked and abused women sheltered by Shakti Samuha, and six orphaned girls from CWIN to begin a process of healing.

The first workshop began in March 2016. The plan was to have the participants engage in a six-week-long workshop with Lajja Dixit. They would hopefully become more comfortable with telling her their stories, and learn how to express them pictorially. Six weeks later, Sattya would step in with artists that would work with the participants to help them tell their stories via artistic mediums.

It was not easy going. Three of the initial twelve participants dropped out, the women struggled with their trauma, feeling vulnerable, and wondered if there was any point to this (seemingly) obscure exercise. They retreated when the artists entered the programme to work with them, wanting the shelter of their therapist, Ms Dixit. Slowly they were coaxed to draw their stories and the women from SS and the teenage girls from CWIN became friends.

Ms Dixit and Cecelia Rana, who monitored all the workshops, noticed that the stories often shared similarities, a child-like view point, a nostalgia and wish to go back to their childhoods and start over; the dream of going back to school, and the fear that they still felt over their abuse and captivity. The participants were therefore divided in three groups so that the stories that resulted are an amalgam of their experiences, overlapping but also adding to the difficult narrative. All three True Stories displayed in the gallery of the Patan Museum are immensely strong, moving both hearts and senses; the project is a success, particularly so when the participants were able to see their stories in a public space for all to share the terrible angst that they have carried for so long.

The True Stories exhibition itself, which has been brought to fruition with the help of the US Embassy, consists of more than just the work of the workshop’s participants. There are relevant works of other artists brought to Nepal by Randy Rosenberg herself who visited during the Kathmandu Triennale. During her time here, Rosenberg saw and wished to include the works of Hitman Gurung, Sheelasha Rajbhandari, and Nabin Baral, all of which grapple with the numerous struggles of Nepali women. Alongside them are the True Stories and the imported works from other participating artists.

The contrast of the visceral works of Sheelasha Rajbhandari and Nabin Baral, along with the True Stories themselves, against the works of the artists from abroad are marked; it is the difference between a walk in the gallery versus a gut-punch. The works are foils to each other, underscoring the harrowing reality that these women have endured.

The shame of sexual slavery, abduction, forced prostitution, abuse and Violence Against Women (VAW), a term used to encapsulate all transgressions against the female sex, is shared by every nation across the world. We cannot hide from these ugly truths, it is our duty to speak out and provide support for victims however difficult and fraught it might be.

History has too long stigmatised women who have been sold in slavery or forced into prostitution and endured domestic abuse, battery, emotional abuse, sexual harassment, and many other horrifying, deeply damaging crimes that are almost always swept under the rug, protecting the perpetrators and punishing the victims. It is time for that to stop and for everyone to join the uphill battle for equality. Nine women found their voices with the True Stories project, what can we do to help more find theirs?

The True Stories Project will remain on display at the Patan Museum through July 31.

Published: 23-07-2017 09:39

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