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Public Wall Art on Tulsi Pipe Road, Mumbai: The Indian post-millennial contemporary, sexual violence and 'femaleness'

Varughese, E. Dawson

This paper examines a selection of nine public wall art images, photographed during fieldwork on Tulsi Pipe Road, Mumbai in mid-2016 and late 2017. The images portray some challenging lived experiences in India today; notably, they encode and invoke recent social memory of violent rape cases and include calls for action (‘Save the Girl Child’ and also the condemnation of sexual violence) whilst communicating messages of empowerment and societal freedom for women. In this paper, I am interested in how these nine images of public wall art from Tulsi Pipe Road document these issues and how they also relate to and with their everyday gazers in the context of the timely and pressing social messaging taking place. Through semiotic analysis of the images, the paper suggests that the positioning of the wall art on Tulsi Pipe Road (alongside the broader context of public, participatory wall art) creates a social messaging space which negotiates contested ideas of the post-millennial contemporary in relation to lived experiences of Indian ‘femaleness’. I explore how the wall art might sidestep sites of violence that all too often accompany the (re-)articulation of gender relations such as street demonstrations. Finally, I am interested in how the medium of public wall art complicates ideas of documenting women’s lived experiences through representation and the articulation of gender issues, given that the interlocutors (or ‘visual script writers’) of these artistic panels are visible only through their messaging (and thus invisible in terms of their presence when compared to participation in demonstrations, petition signing and social media presence, as examples). In other recent work, I have explored ideas of the ‘inauspicious’ alongside calls to see ideas of Indianness (Dawson Varughese, 2017 and 2018) and aspects of that interest appear here.

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