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Arunima Maharshi

IWB Blogger

Artist Aqui Thami Shares Works Of Headstrong Women Feminist Writers From The Shelves Of ‘Sister Library’

  • IWB Post
  •  August 8, 2019

“Everyday I wake up with all the women in my life holding me, protecting me, and loving me. When I love myself it is their love I reflect. My body from all the hair on it to the skin I live in is covered in their names,” reads Aqui Thami’s Instagram.

A first generation indigenous artist and academician, Aqui’s interest spans the fields of anthropology of the state, Dalit & Indigenous studies, anti-racist feminism, and youth & conflict studies. But her art is centered on the culture of DIY, self-publishing, and guerrilla poster. As extraordinary as it can get, right?

“I believe in creating art that is grounded in the act of ‘doing’ and addresses political or social issues,” is what the artist-activist has to say in response to people’s curious expressions and questions regarding her work.

I first read about Aqui in an article that talked about Sister Library – an unconventional library that aims to evolve and generate artwork to engage with the visual and reading culture of our times – but it was through her website that I got better acquainted with her. As unique as her are her socially-driven projects and initiatives! Scroll through and find for yourself:

Aqui Thami

Which is that one book in the Sister Library that you treasure the most, or the one that has proven to be your constant companion?

There are so many of them. Women Race & Class, by Angela Davis, is one that I find myself rereading many times.

Speaking of women writers and the struggles that they have to face, what contribution do you see patriarchy playing in it?

I can speak from a place of someone that ran an underground library in a garage, even the people who are all woke don’t read women. Patriarchy is not just a word one can swing around to get cookies… it is a toxic system we live in and the fight is every day. Even for feminists the fight is constant.

Hmmm. Tell me a little about the reactions of little girls from the Bombay slum, how did your art initiative help in nurturing their vision and personalities?

Kids in Dharavi have really changed my life. I gain so much from them every single day. Through art, we have together been able to relook at femininity and how gender hurts. Our girls are amazing, and they’re changing the world slowly but surely.

Aqui Thami

On that note, five books that you’d suggest for teenage girls?

Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi

A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle

Salt – Nayyirah Waheed

The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf

Skim – Mariko Tamaki

Who’d be some of your role models from literature?

From the top of my head:

Meridian Hill, from Meridian – Alice Walker

Mo Tessa, from Dykes to Watch Out For – Alison Bechdel

Visuenuo, from Don’t Run My Love – Easterine Kire

And how do you think Lesbian Literature can be made to reach out to more people?

By talking about it more. By referring the literature to more friends and family. By normalizing it.

Getting back to the library, how can people contribute to Sister Library?

By sending books by spreading the word, by coming to visit, by crowd-funding to take it to many smaller cities and towns.

One speaker you dream to invite at the library?

Angela Davis.

Aqui Thami

Aqui with Urvashi Butalia (left) and Belinder Dhanoa (right) at the opening of Sister Library, in Delhi

In your opinion, what direction should parents of young girls take in terms of introducing them to the right kind of books, and also to women role models?

This is a toughie! I do not have kids of my own. In my humble opinion, parents should introduce reading to kids from early childhood. Taking kids to bookshops or street side book-wallas, and letting them leaf through many books and then pick some to take along, could be not just a bonding moment but it could teach the kids and parents many life lessons. It is always a nice idea to read the book first before passing it to the kids.

If schools could amend their curriculum to incorporate a chapter on women role models, whose names would you suggest?

Our young girls should definitely learn about Savitri Bai Phule, Irom Sharmila, Soni Sori, Phoolan Devi.

Aqui Thami

Aqui with contemporary artist Anita Dubey

Shifting our conversation to the other projects you have done/are doing – talk a little about the ‘Say Her Name’ project.

The project is titled ‘Her Name is…’ while the work (painting) is titled Say Her Name. I worked on this piece during my residency at the Darling Foundry in Montreal. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women or MMIW as it is popularly stated within the activist circles has gained some attention and acknowledgment as a burning issue yet very few people will be able to name even a few of over 4,000 (and counting) women reported missing.

This painting on a scroll is my attempt to commemorate, honor and remember the names of the sisters, mothers, friends, daughters, lovers, wives, grandmothers who have been taken away from their families and friends.

It is an attempt to recognize that these women existed and were punished for existing while being Native. It is a reminder that their lives were as valuable as any other. It is a critique of the insensitivity on the part of the people to whom the lives of native women matter less even in death, murder, and violence.

And was there a personal experience that triggered you to create and paste posters to oppose street harassment and sexism in Bombay?

Yes! All of my works are a response to personal experiences. Although the project started with 100 posters in Bombay, reclaiming sites where I was harassed, it has now traveled everywhere with more and more women wanting to use the posters/stickers to mark the sites where they were harassed, too.

r.e.c.l.a.i.m Throwback 2015 @bombayunderground X @artoxygen #streetart #art #poster #wheatpaste #reclaimthestreets #bombay #women #feminism #feminist #community #streetstyle #artist

97 Likes, 2 Comments – @dallaekhorsani on Instagram: “r.e.c.l.a.i.m Throwback 2015 @bombayunderground X @artoxygen #streetart #art #poster #wheatpaste…”

Ah. Are there any city spaces that you want to repaint with your art?

I have always wanted to paint the insides of women public toilets.

I saw a picture titled ‘Read to Reclaim’ on your website. Is there a story to it?

Read to Reclaim was a site-specific performance at Flora Fountain in Bombay. Hope we get to reclaiming many more spaces by merely reading.

Aqui Thami

And lastly, which women-related issues would you want to work on through your art, in order to create more awareness?

Many concepts/experiences that nudge me transpire into my works. At present, I’m contesting/questioning the concept of colonization – of bodies, of the environment, and of minds of women.

First published on Jun 6, 2018.

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