What is the purpose of images? Is it just a medium to attract attention or do images speak to us? We believe that images have an impact on the viewer and also add to a narrative in the society. If one sits back, and introspects a little, we realise that whenever we read a news story which is reporting gender based violence, the image used is such which portrays the woman as the victim. The victim who is helpless and powerless with no future. While we always see the face of the victim and to a certain extent feel pity for the victim, what we never feel is empathy for the victim/survivor. What we also never feel is anger towards the perpetrator, because after all where is the perpetrator in the image?
Last week, a group of graphic designers, illustrators, artists, photographers, writers, activists, journalists, people working on gender issues met at the “Redraw misogyny: Change the narrative” event co-organised by Breakthrough India, Instagram, ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellowship and Hacks/Hackers. They spent the whole day engaging with each other progressing one step at a time. They first began by establishing the problem with these images and then followed it up by thinking of concepts which they can implement where they come up with images that counter these issues.
The discussion amongst the participants was an exciting one. While some emphasised on how the focus could be shifted to the perpetrator, some spoke about how the colours used or the the background portrayed often recreates the horror of the violence and needs to be changed. A participant who is a photographer brought in the point about how it is also essential to think about what is it that a photograph can capture and what is it that we can reflect through an illustration. Keeping the law in mind, we really can’t put a photograph which has the face of the victim/survivor or the perpetrator. Then what are some of the other things that can be captured through a lens and still add to the narrative on gender based violence?
Another very pertinent point that surfaced during the discussion was that there are no images available which take into account that men and boys are also subjected to gender based violence. Further, what about the violence that LGBTQIA people are subjected to? Can we think about images which portray the victim/survivor in a gender neutral way? However, while a discussion on portraying the survivor/victim as gender neutral progressed, it was also pointed out that we need to be careful about not playing into the classic Men’s Rights Activists argument that men are ‘exploited’ by women. As we move towards gender neutrality it is important to acknowledge that women are more vulnerable to violence in a patriarchal society. And this, argument needs to be further fleshed out keeping in mind how identities such as caste, class, religion, sexuality, disability intersect.
When we talk about gender based violence, the power at play is not only between the victim/survivor and the perpetrator. Power plays at multiple levels. The society, the authorities, family everybody comes in. Keeping this in mind, a lot of participants spoke about how we can move beyond a depiction of just the perpetrator or the victim/survivor and for instance depict bystander intervention or simply a supportive legal and judicial system. Participants followed different methods to arrive at a concept. One group spoke about how envisioning ideas such as empathy, justice and agency enabled them to come up with ideas for images which change the narrative.
This meetup was the first step. All the participants are working on their concepts and will soon get together again with the final images. These images will be disseminated in newsrooms and will be available on the internet under the creative commons license. The fact that the final aim is to disseminate these images in newsrooms was constantly kept in mind. The idea is to make a diverse pool of images available which can be used when gender based violence is being reported.
Very often, we are asked, violence is violence, why try and represent a silver lining? Why call a person a survivor when clearly he/she was subjected to violence and he/she may not actually ever cope with it? These are very valid questions. But, the real question is do we stop at the violence? At every step, survivors are told that they did not ‘behave’ like a victim. Even if a person wants to cope, does the society allow for that to happen?
Is it unreal and ambitious to envision an empowered life for a person who has been subjected to violence? Can we break free from a cycle of violence? We believe we can and we have to make that journey from depicting a victim to depicting a survivor. The dominant patriarchal narrative has to be challenged and we are all set to do so by simply redrawing it.
To view pictures of the event, click on this link.