Zist Tarashi: Sculpting Lives

17-18th January:

Richa Kaul Padte


There is no dearth of images of Muslim women. Rather, being both Muslim and a woman appears to immediately make one the object of sustained public scrutiny. Zist Tarashi: Sculpting Lives showcases the work of 16 Muslim women who were given the opportunity to photograph their communities and their lives. The collection is not a response to the deluge of media that professes to speak for, against or about Muslim women; to attempt such a response would be to assert the existence of a single authentic Muslim women’s voice where in fact multiple exist. Zist Tarashi: Sculpting Lives is instead an effort to revisit and complicate the traditional relationship between the observer and the observed, and to allow women who are so often documented and catalogued in the public space to tell their own stories.    

            The photos displayed were the result of a series of photography workshops conducted by Aawaaz-e-Niswaan and Point of View with a group of 16 Muslim women in Kurla, Mumbai. Some of these women had never before held a camera. For most of them, the workshops, led by renowned photographer Sudharak Olwe and his team from the Photography Promotion Trust, afforded a rare opportunity for self-expression through the foreign lens of a camera. While they started to see reality from fresh personal perspectives, they simultaneously started communicating their everyday worlds to wider audiences.

             The photographers have all lived with or been subjected to domestic violence. And while none of their photographs depict violence per se, the text accompanying each set of pictures (speaking about the photographers’ lives), allows the viewer a new insight into the photographs – a glimpse of the myriad struggles overcome before the click of the camera.

             Point of View brought the exhibition to SNDT College for a period of two days from the 17th to the 18th of January 2011.  Exhibited in the basement foyer, the central location of the collection meant that a large number of students and staff were able to look at the works. There seemed to be a genuine interest in the motivation behind the exhibition as well as the work of the organizations behind it. Furthermore, accompanied by postcards advertising the exhibition but also providing information about violence against women, students and staff were asked to consider such issues in a new light. At the heart of this initiative was a simple message – the power to stop violence against women is in your voice: so use it. We hope that the experience of viewing the photographs alongside a reading of the postcard will empower women and young girls to speak up around issues of violence, whatever its form.

             Some of the comments made by the SNDT campus community were, ‘It is satisfying to know  that certain organisations have taken up an issue which is culture specific’; ‘It was very creative…I am very much inspired  and impressed  by it’; ‘the gesture of using the  camera to reflect one’s lives  - fragmented and tormented – is deeply engaging and even elevating. The pictures are lovely and the women, inspiring.’

             It has been an extremely productive and interesting experience for us to bring Zist Tarashi: Sculpting Lives to SNDT College, and we would really like to thank you for your enthusiasm and heartfelt responses. If you would like to know more about Point of View’s college-based campaigns, please visit our new website at www.pyaarplus.in, which provides a platform for discussion around a range of issues including relationships, gender, and violence.