Writer, theatre director and facilitator Nimi Ravindran is articulate, especially when it’s time to discuss Gender Bender, the Sandbox Collective festival that will begin its fifth round in Bengaluru soon. As a co-founder of the collective, a creative services organisation that curates, produces and tours performances, Nimi describes the festival as a “first of its kind in India, that showcases new works of art around gender.”
This it has been, right from when it began in 2015, when a group of performers raised some interestingly refreshing questions like, ‘the gender of the spirit’ and ‘the gender of the moon’. The festival, a joint project by Goethe Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan and Sandbox Collective, was an instant success. The editions that followed, all conceived, curated and conceptualised by Sandbox Collective, showcased powerful stories around gender as well. To Nimi, this is heartening, for she is firm in her belief that “gender is a never-ending conversation.” While the concept of gender being fluid, instead of confined to a binary, to the majority of the population, it remains tied to the latter. “The conversation has grown way beyond that though,” Nimi assents. “We’re all running around trying to catch up yet it’s a good time.”
Ten projects have made the cut this year, chosen from amongst the 200 entries they received from across the world. It’s a big leap from the first year, when they received 63 applications, selecting 10. “What started off as a three-hour festival has grown into a four-day festival,” says Nimi. “We used to get applications from metros but this year, they came from every corner of the country and internationally, too. This year, our first international grantee was from Cairo.” That’s Rania Atef, whose work, ‘While being an octopus’ examines the position of women in the Arab region, through the concept of ‘balance’ required by women in general and mothers in particular.
There are illustrated tarot cards on ovarian problems, ethnographic accounts of migrant women, talks on representation of women and marginalised genders in Indian comics, to a panel discussion on love, sex, dating, mating and all things connected to desire through apps. Feminist literature is represented by Aqui Thami’s Sister Library which showcases zines that are mainly handmade by Thami. Queer literature is curated by Rohini Malur, a queer poet, spoken word artist and writer, who organises prose and poetry events for Namma Pride. Art is represented by two projects, Manifest – a photographic show about 13 queer women who chose popular male characters and chose to become dress drag, and Around the World in 50 posters – a collection of 50 artworks ranging from photographs, text, illustrations and paintings sent by artists from across the world. There is even a male belly dancer Eshaan Hillal.
This range and diversity is fits into the concept on which the festival was created. As Nimi says, “The festival is a space for conversations. It’s a space to show new perspective around gender. Gender Bender was the first festival of its kind and we need many, many more. We need space for debates, space for nuance, space to talk and space to disagree, and to learn...”
As the festival unfolds, Nimi talks of the lead-up events to it. “This year we had a talk by the members of the jury that selected the grantees for this year titled ‘No Looking Back: art, work, life from the margins. We also had another event, freedom@midnight, a walk through the streets of Bengaluru post-midnight, to reclaim spaces and feel the freedom that comes without having to think about safety issues while walking on the streets. Tons of people turned up and we had a blast.”
By slowly yet surely changing the conversations around gender, the festival is creating a beautiful process of learning. “We realise that there’s so much we don’t know and could learn. In these troubling times, we need the power of art to create spaces to share and to create inclusive spaces.”
What: Gender Bender 2019
When: August 23, 24
Where: Bangalore International Centre