Campaigns, street actions
DID YOU ASK FOR IT?:
Blank Noise wants you to discard the clothes worn at the time you were sexually harassed on the streets. This collective building of an installation of clothes seeks, primarily, to erase the assumption that you 'asked for it' because of what you were wearing. The popular assumption is that the girl is to blame because she was 'provocatively dressed', implying that 'immodest' women are eve-teased. Clothes are contributed with a note by the volunteer which explains the circumstances under which they were harassed and includes a usually intimate description of what the participant was feeling, thus acting as an outlet for a kind of purging of experience as well.
We hope to collect 1,000 clothes and assemble them in a gigantic installation out on the streets in the major cities of India. The hope is that the clothes will act as a public testimony and rejuvenation of public memory, collectively defying the notion of 'modesty'. Clothes are coming in from as far apart as Baramulla, Kashmir and Chennai, Tamil Nadu and include school uniforms and salwar kameez's.
To sceptics who ask whether this doesn't imply falling into the role of “victim” whereas it might be more empowering to emerge from that label and fight the experience, Blank Noise suggests that this collection serves to purge memories, jog public and personal memories (thus countering the tendency to brush off street harassment or live in denial about its existence)
This part of the project is open to anyone anywhere: people need to mail in their clothes or arrange for us to help them ship it over to our Bangalore studio.
REPORTING TO REMEMBER:
Following a series of attacks against women and on minorities across Karnataka, Blank Noise began the Reporting to Remember project. Many of the attacks were against people found talking to members of the opposite sex when they were from a different community; or eating with them; or travelling in the same transport as them. But there were also concentrated attacks against women in a pub (Mangalore - 24/01/09), driving on a busy street (Bangalore, Feb 09), trying to catch an auto (Bangalore Feb 09) and others, indicating that women were being attacked for no other reason than that their actions were deemed to be against "Indian culture" whatever that monolithic identity was assumed to be by these -often right wing- young men.
This is an online project, launched in March 2009.
MAKE YOUR STREET SIGN:
This is a project inviting contributions online here. The idea is: We are talking of safer cities not feared cities; We are talking of independent women, not paranoid women;We are talking about collective responsibility- don't tell me to be even more 'cautious';
We are talking about eve teasing as street sexual harassment and street sexual violence; We are talking about autonomous women, not just mothers daughters and sisters amidst fathers brothers and sons.
Over April-May 2009, online.
BLANK NOISE GUY:
Increasingly, Blank Noise meetings are attended by men. Blank Noise has now begun to document through video and written testimonial the relationship that men have to issues of street harassment; the reasons why they come to Blank Noise meetings and volunteer with us, despite our attention being largely focussed on the harassment of women. Some exploration has begun here.
Internet based, bagun in April 2009.
MUSEUM OF STREET WEAPONS:
No, we do not condone violence of any kind, but Blank Noise has been interested in examining how women convert everyday objects into articles of defence when on the street. This project also explores the mindset with which different women set out to face the street. Safety pins become little knives, deodorant sprays are accompanied by pepper sprays and ... well take a look here. The project is also on facebook, up here... um, link coming soon.
It was begun online in December 2008.
BLANK NOISE THIS PLACE:
Remember it, record it, report it with a photograph at Blank Noise This Place. Begun online in 2008 (although informally before that!). Send pics in here: firstname.lastname@example.org and see the other photographic reportage on this Flickr set here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/blanknoisethisplace.
TALES OF LOVE AND LUST
Also known as the vocabulary project, stemming from a need to build a dictionary of 'eve teasing', Blank Noise asked participants to email in to us comments and remarks they had heard addressed to them on the street. We compiled them into what we call an 'eve teasing' vocabulary. We represent this vocabulary in the form of charts, school-style, simple lettering and graphics, in an attempt to desexualise and remove obscene reference from the terms that are used leerily at us on the streets. When participants sent us food names that they had been called - 'cham cham', 'tamatar', - for instance - Blank Noise returned to the original, clinical, hard-fact meaning of the word and presented charts with the term followed by its meaning, to show what we are not. For instance, it might be hard for some men to believe when they hiss 'cham cham' at a girl on the street, but we are not in fact an East Indian sweet. Sweet, spongy and soft patties made from milk, flavoured with saffron, in a sugar syrup. In this way we take back the word and assign it its original meaning devoid of lewd ascription.
This is online and readable on:
Tales of Love and Lust 1
Tales of Love and Lust 2
Tales of Love and Lust 3
This was an online project, but posters have been printed an put up in offices in Bangalore.
Photographing the perpetrator:
Women, camera and the internet.
Here the Blank Noise volunteer responds rapidly and powerfully, by photographing the perpetrator, thus seizing control of the situation and flipping the power relation where the male has assumed control. Photographs are posted on the Internet, along the same lines as those practised by HollaBack NYC, a U.S.-based group that Blank Noise is associated with.
Critics may argue that this violates the rights of the perpetrator to state their defence, by publicly condemning them without allowing for a response from them, but Blank Noise believes that street dynamics are on-the-spot and rapidly changing, requiring a response that evolves within the same dynamic since the law is often handicapped to deal with street harassment. “Natural” processes of justice, for instance, would imply reporting street harassment, calling upon witnesses and requiring the filing of FIRs whereas the actions that violate personal and physical space are often fleeting or done on-the-run and sometimes hard/impossible to prove.
Mostly this has been used in Bangalore.
Many women in India wouldn't imagine exploring the streets of their cities at night, alone, unaccompanied by a male escort or using private transport. Blank Noise Project's night walks invite women to come together to “hang out” on the streets... the feel of this intervention is often light hearted and celebratory. Women can stop to eat at roadside dhabas, or just run along the streets, enjoying the public space and revelling in the feeling of being out at a time usually considered taboo.
Some night walks have been more narrowly focussed, with women using stencils and posters to publicise Blank Noise and talk to people about it on their way.
Has been conducted in New Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai.
Y R U LOOKING AT ME:
One of the earliest Blank Noise interventions, here groups of people (sometimes joining the group spontaneously moments before it begins) wear one letter each of the provocative phrase Y R U LOOKING AT ME on their breasts in shiny red reflective tape. The group appears and disappears at traffic lights and at major public crossings and is completely silent, maintaining eye contact with the stream of traffic lined up at the signal. Often when challenged by a frank and fearless female gaze, onlookers tend to look away or feel embarrassed; thus the ubiquitous male gaze is countered and an interest is generated which allows for dialogue to open up. When the light turns green, volunteers disappear into the sidewalk, distributing pamphlets and answering questions.
Has been conducted in Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and New Delhi.
This is the current stage of the project and can be considered a variant of the earlier stage. Condicted in the same spaces as the role playing interventions, these require women to take control and respond to harassment. Often street interventions involve an “incident” of harassment and action heroes respond as they wish, aware that whether they choose to scream out or stay silent, the response is a conscious and deliberate one.
Volunteers are handed whistles which often rent the air during an intervention, signalling the alarm and emergency that street harassment should trigger and thereby negating the denial response where the girl moves on, pretending nothing happened that is unusual.
In Bangalore, Mumbai and New Delhi. Details on blanknoiseactionheroes.blogspot.com
On International Women's Day, March 8, 2006, Blank Noise extrapolated its current intervention onto its blog. In 2007, the blog-a-thon invited women to pick up the imaginary baton from the Blank Noise blog and write a post about a personal experience of harassment on their own blog, linking back to Blank Noise. Many women from across the world shared intimate experiences that they had buried or forgotten. The anonymity of the internet granted safety and a sense of power and women shared frankly experiences that resounded with other participants, thus creating an online community that shared universal experiences despite being separated by miles of physical space!
In 2007, in keeping with the Action Heroes theme of the main project, Blank Noise's blog-a-thon asked women to share how they had responded and/or fought back.
This is an online project open to anyone – those who use the internet could email us their posts or write them on their personal blogs, but people were also encouraged to share verbally and Blank Noise volunteers would translate this on to online text.
This campaign asked people to email us what they wished from their cities. Often city streets and parks are functional spaces, that we use merely to navigate and would not linger in, savour or enjoy. But we asked people to look beyond the reality of unsafe streets into an ideal world where they could imagine an alternate reality. The results were telling: people wrote in with wishes as simple as "I wish I could sit under a tree and read', suggesting that the simplest pleasures are a luxury in much of urban India today. The blueprint for this campaign could be used as a guide, showing Blank Noise what its participants are hoping for and could provide indications for what direction our future work might take.
Testimonials are in the form of letters created using materials from past Blog-a-thons. They begin “Dear Stranger” and go on to detail an experience of street harassment and present a very personal view of the experience from the victim's point of view. They seek to encourage the recipient to see street harassment at once as a very personal experience that can leave long lasting trauma as well as an event/s that is experienced by a wide range of women from different backgrounds: thus the convergence of the universal and the particular resident in an act of street harassment are conveyed by the young women volunteers through these letters.
Recipients are usually passersby but have sometimes been the area's residents - by knocking at their apartment doors (as in Mumbai). These are usually distributed at night walks or at interventions such as Y R U LOOKING AT ME.
Stenciling includes spray-painting testimonials like short FIRs, leaving it as graffiti in bazaars, bus-stops etc. and is created usually night walks.
Posters mentioning the law against street harassment or maybe a list of things women find invasive or equating to harassment. These are created from sessions with Blank Noise volunteers and sometimes as a result of opinion polls.
Opinion polls and dialogue building:
The second phase of the project sought to elicit responses on the act of street harassment from people on the streets where these acts take place. Blank Noise volunteers, armed with dictaphones and opinion charts, asked people for their opinions of street harassment. What is it, who indulges in it, when does it happen, what are people's responses to it – these are some of the questions we asked and mapped on to chart paper. This action allowed us to open dialogue with people in a non-confrontational manner as well as helped us understand different people's perspectives on harassment involving the changing nature of the city, globalisation, the influence of popular culture and its use as a schema through which to interact with the opposite sex and so on.
Conducted in Bangalore and Delhi, there are now attempts to make permanent some of these polls so that people will find charts at their neighborhood paan store or bus stand, keeping the issue alive and the debate ongoing.
We call these “Auto T-shirts” since they are meant to be read off the reflection from a rear view mirror in an auto. Asking Y RU LOOKING AT ME in Hindi and Kannada script so that it's what meets the viewers eyes through a mirror.
Blank Noise volunteers in Delhi map “harassment spots” on a city map. Women place a red thumb print on a city map to mark an area they have been harassed and once volunteers have marked the map, it is offered to passers by who add to the map. Testimonials are handed out during this process and it also serves as an opening for dialogue on issues that Blank Noise works with.
This intervention seeks to reclaim public spaces for women. Begun on Bangalore's crowded Brigade Road, volunteers show up on a weekend afternoon, wearing a form of clothing they would not otherwise wear out in public, and adopt a persona appropriate to the clothing.
Through the course of the intervention they occupy the spaces most aggressively occupied by males: for instance, along the railings and outside the liquor shop at the head of the street. Brigade Road is well known for its hordes of lingering males, draped on the railings often reaching out to pinch the women who walk by or to stare incessantly at them, thus making the experience of walking down the street one that is unpleasant for many women, who walk with their heads lowered and bags clasped around their person.
This intervention allows women in large numbers to linger on the street, taking over the spaces hitherto reserved for males. The intervention seeks to imagine what the public space would look like if it were filled with as many women as there are men usually – how does the dynamic change, and what does this mean for women's safety? Women are free to explore negotiations of the public space through different persona: one woman could be dressed as a sex worker for instance and suggest invitation through her body language (the intervention does not use words), another could be dressed in a saree draped provocatively: the intention is only to wear what you would not otherwise and explore the space from a fresh perspective.
This intervention has been conducted in many forms routinely in Bangalore and the intention is to build it up as a regular feature rather than a random occurence. The main challenge inherent within it is to translate the power and relaxed attitude displayed by most women volunteers during the intervention into a similarly confident experience that they can draw upon when walking by the street otherwise, outside of an intervention.
Has been conducted in Bangalore and Delhi.