Art & Voices Matter: Indu Antony talks about the discomfort of the creative process

Indu Antony on avoiding the trap of the ‘saviour complex’ as an artist working with marginalised issues of gender, class equity, feminism, and LGBTQ+ rights.

by Girinandini SinghPublished on : Jun 07, 2021

Indu Antony is an award-winning photographer who has predominantly been working with communities and people living on the fringes of society, who have been pushed to the margins when it comes to representation. Extremely aware of her outside gaze, Antony brings the utmost sensitivity, perceptiveness and responsibility to her documentation process, allowing the idea or the subject to drive the medium envisioning it. She has created an extensive body of work on the feminist stance in the evolving Indian ecosystem, the acceptance of LGBTQ+ rights, inter-class dynamics, body positivity and gender. Many of her works move beyond the static image exploring a tangible presence via performance art and video installations, creating a space where there is a dynamic and active engagement with the content created dipping into the sensorial nature and immediacy of the moving image.

Cecilia-5 | Indu Antony | STIRworld
Cecilia-5 Image: Indu Antony
1. Please talk about your general practice.

I work from spaces of discomfort. A discomfort for me is a line of questioning that is pertinent enough to spark a conversation or a dialogue over. It has to be enough to engage in various mediums that can express the dissonance. I started my artistic journey working a lot with photography. Now even though this visual medium is at the core of a lot of my works I look at each project individually, at what medium resonates with me and then work with the same.

Cecilia-3 | Indu Antony | STIRworld
Cecilia- 3 by Indu Antony Image: Indu Antony

2. What are the key concerns that you aspire to address through your work? What prompted you to make this your area of focus?

The key concerns are what happens to me or around me. I am genuinely concerned about injustice, disturbance, gender discrimination, public access, and communal memories.

02 mins watch Why can’t bras have buttons | Indu Antony | STIRworld
Why can’t bras have buttons : a collection of object-based memory Video: Indu Antony

3. How do art interventions aid the process to voice anxieties of the subaltern and question the normative order? Do you think art helps its audience to think and experience about matters that are otherwise considered of a lesser-importance?

I think art plays an important role in recognising the otherwise overlooked concerns and issues which are plaguing us at a societal level. When I was doing the project Cecilia’ed we were talking about safety for women in public spaces. We would be doing various interventions on the streets and people would walk up to us and acknowledge the conversations we were trying to convey. An art mural of Cecilia at Vijayanagar Metro station, allowed women to feel safe under its shelter, till their next ride arrived to take them home. I don't expect that art, or such interventions can change everything overnight but an effort made towards bringing such a change will certainly help in some way or the other.

Cecilia-7 | Indu Antony | STIRworld
Cecilia-7 Image: Indu Antony

4. What kind of artistic liberties do you take to reflect (your version of) the reality of the community? 

I don't think I take artistic liberties. Rather I actively engage with the realities of the community through my work. For instance, while doing the public art project Cecilia’ed we were constantly talking about safety for women in public spaces. As a doctor I often felt that I had the liberty and ease with the police, receiving help while being on the streets during our street openings. Additionally, we would constant be having conversations and dialogues with the local government authorities on the execution of the project. The local government officials perhaps as a result of these efforts eventually gave us permission to build Bangalore’s first women's library.

Book Internal | Book Spine | Indu Antony | STIRworld
L: Book Internal; R: Book Spine Image: Indu Antony

5. How do you involve artistic sensitivity to capture the fragility of the people already relegated to the margins? How do you balance the aspects of sensitivity and solidarity?

I look at working with people only after I have developed a certain kind of relationship. I am aware of the privilege I have and I often stay away from projects that have the easy trap of a ‘saviour syndrome’ inherent in them. I am becoming more and more aware of this as I work with the marginalised communities and with people and lives living on the fringes of society. When I initially started my career in the visual arts there was less conversation around this responsibility or sensitivity, and perhaps at that time even I didn’t understand things or know better. 

Framed | Indu Antony | STIRworld
Framed by Indu Antony Image: Indu Antony

6. Lastly, how far have things changed in past years and what do you aspire as an outcome in medium to long term through your work?

My work is predominantly conceptual in nature, and thus the medium often varies from project to project. However, I am also trying different mediums, testing the water to see if our temperaments match. At the moment I enjoy stitching with my hair and it is taking a huge place in my current works. I am enjoying salt prints as well. I suppose what I am enjoying is working with mediums which are slowing down my creative process, which are drawing out the artistic investigation. I am quite keen on book-making and this has translated into having a self-publishing initiative called Mazhi Books. I recently released my new book - Why can’t bras have buttons?

Book Cover | Indu Antony | STIRworld
Book Cover Image: Indu Antony

Art & Voices Matter
Co-curated by Rahul Kumar and Dilpreet Bhullar, Art & Voices Matter is a STIR original series of interviews with global creative practitioners who bring to the core the issues of communities that may be seen at the periphery.

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