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STIR and FCB India win Gold at Cannes Industry Craft Lions 2023

Announced at the 70th Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Untangling the Politics of Hair campaign features photographs by Rohit Chawla.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Jun 20, 2023

On June 20, at the prestigious 70th Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the campaign Untangling the Politics of Hair was announced as the recipient of a Gold Lion in the Industry Craft Lions category. The 70th edition of the festival is being held from June 19-23, 2023. Untangling the Politics of Hair was produced by FCB India for STIR, and was created & conceived by Rohit Chawla & Swati Bhattacharya.

Untangling the Politics of Hair, 2023, poster, Rohit Chawla Image: Rohit Chawla, Courtesy of FCB India

The campaign was a pivotal intervention that succeeded in bringing attention to the Mahsa Amini protests in Iran, both within India and beyond. Untangling the Politics of Hair even garnered the support of UN Resident Coordinator in India, Shombi Sharp, and stands as an example of the capacity that art and journalism possess for generating urgent discourse, when they are brought together in conjunction.

Hair and Her by Rohit Chawla at IAF 2023 showed the cutting of hair as an act of rebellion, 2023, video, Rohit Chawla Video: Rohit Chawla, Courtesy of FCB India

In the words of STIR Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Amit Gupta, “We are truly humbled by this recognition, and encouraged, to continue the path of questioning the status quo. On behalf of the team, I thank the awards jury, STIR’s readers, and contributors from across the globe, and our collaborators Swati Bhattacharya from FCB India, and photographer Rohit Chawla, who conceptualised and articulated the initiative in ways that mobilised public solidarity.”

You can read the article, and watch the video that helped bring global attention to the pressing issues faced by women, inspired by the feminist protests in Iran here.

Untangling The Politics of Hair, 2023 Video: Veneet Raj Bagga and Onion Creative, Courtesy of FCB India

The campaign emerged from Swati Bhattacharya (CCO, FCB India) and photographer Rohit Chawla’s deeply affecting India Art Fair (IAF) 2023 exhibition titled Hair and Her, using the art exhibition and the stellar examples of Indian photography and film that it presented, to raise awareness around the protests that erupted across Iran in September 2022. Untangling the Politics of Hair boldly spoke to power, even as politicians from the world’s largest democracy chose to stay silent on the atrocities being borne by the women of that nation, and indeed, across the world.

Scenes from the Hair and Her exhibition, 2023, photo collage, Rohit Chawla Image: Rohit Chawla, Courtesy of FCB India

Hair and Her used photography and film, to confront audiences at the India Art Fair with the haunting vision of a woman draped from head to toe in a prison of her own hair. In the video created by Veneet Raj Bagga and Onions Creative Media, a sombre Bengali song by Aanon H Siddiqua asks why her eyes, mouth and legs have been bound for so long, and she begins to snap away her bonds, before cutting the shackles that bind her legs and the mask that is wrapped around her face.

Women covered and tied by their hair Image: Rohit Chawla, Courtesy of FCB India

The protests in Iran, that the campaign linked to, sprung up in the wake of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini’s custodial death after she had been arrested for a strand of her hair escaping her hijab. As conscientious dissidents from across the world added their voices to the rising tide calling for justice, it became clear that these protests extended beyond the snatching of one innocent life; that they carried with them the cry of all women, who, since time immemorial, have been subjected to patriarchal standards of hair-grooming and adornment.

The exhibit brought to the fore how a woman's hair has been tangled with the patriarchy forever Image: Rohit Chawla, Courtesy of FCB India

While heads of states across the globe withheld commenting on the Mahsa Amini protests, STIR took a largely different stance: as a disruptive art, design and architecture magazine, it chose to amplify the commentary made by Hair and Her. If art chooses to illuminate the pressing issues of our day, it is in the purview of journalism to magnify the voices that speak to disturbingly common realities such as this.

Rohit Chawla on what inspired him to create these photographs Video: Rohit Chawla, Courtesy of FCB India

The potency of the campaign is best captured in photographer Rohit Chawla’s own words, “Standing at the crossroads of art and journalism, I feel Untangling the Politics of Hair doesn’t just provoke you to see the work, but provokes you to do something about it.” This was certainly true for Hair and Her, which was the crucial spark that ignited the campaign. The exhibition included a clear donation box beside the work on display, and prompted visitors to leave behind a lock of their hair, in solidarity with the victims of what Chawla calls ‘hair apartheid’. In no time at all, the box filled up with strands of varying colour and texture, from a multinational throng where each person had been so affected by the feminist art that they engaged with, they no longer remained passive viewers and had instead crossed the threshold to become participants.

Hair—a marker of beauty turned into a means of oppression for women Image: Rohit Chawla, Courtesy of FCB India

The story was eventually picked up by many other news and media outlets, and the result exemplifies the ability of conscientious and creative reportage. Gupta further illustrated this point by adding, "If truth, accuracy, impartiality, humanity, and accountability are the cornerstones of journalism, it is the courage to embrace criticality that defines the position of any journalistic platform, to create an equitable space for plural voices. STIR looks at the world through the medium of art, design, and architecture, as a means for interpreting, challenging, and building more desirable spaces of inclusive co-existence."

This win is the outcome of a collaboration between diverse creatives that are bound by common moralities. We leave you with these parting words from Swati Bhattacharya, "Between STIR’s unfettered ambition for this brief, our aspiration for the work, the standards Rohit Chawla, our photographer, set for making it as evocative as it could be, this is a testament to what being unfettered can achieve for all of us. We fly when we’re unfettered.
Jin Jiyan Azadi!”

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