Dabbing herself in black paint and wearing a strikingly contrasting white attire, artist P. S. Jaya doesn’t have any qualms walking around in public. Many eyes follow her; some even start a conversation with her. Interestingly enough, that is exactly what she wants. Some think she is unhinged while others pity her for a particular medical condition. Either way, the curious minds get to her and the interactions that follow make her day.
For Jaya this step is part of a 100-day experiment, started on January 26, post the suicide of Hyderabad University research scholar Rohit Vemula. The entire nation was shaken by the incident. Jaya strongly felt the necessity to react. “Being an artist, I am making myself a medium to convey my thoughts. Rohith’s suicide was an open evidence of how the Dalits continue to face danger in society. History is getting repeated for those who are in the lower caste strata. The whole issue of untouchability is seeing new dimensions and people are getting discriminated against their caste, colour and creed,” says Jaya.
A post-graduate in fine arts, Jaya teaches at a private art institution in Kochi, where she also attends dance classes. This gives her a space to interact with the young-gen who are amused at her dark-shaded appearance. “Some students are disturbed by my darker look. But it gives me space to deconstruct the notion of fairness. The whole discourse should start with students who can transform society for a better future. One form of protest is a catalyst. There is a chain reaction that follows a protest. We are inspired by former protests and I hope someone else gets inspired by it. I believe everyone should mark their awareness one way or the other and it should come as a responsibility,” says Jaya.
She is also a part of an artists’ group known as the Kalakakshi that actively react to social issues. Through ‘art into public’, Jaya, along with her fellow artists, is reaching out to people with their respective tools of art. “Our group compiles a reaction against the existing discrimination and fascism in society. Whatever problems society faces, we use art as an expression to spread awareness on it. There is constant research and study that comes along with it,” explains Jaya.
On Women’s Day too, she went to the public wearing LED lights as part of a project. “Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that women cannot go out after a certain time, it was made by society. I was fighting this, making women realise their rights.” Even though her mother was initially indifferent to her act, she gets a lot of support from her sister, artist P.S. Jalaja, and her artist partner. It takes her more than an hour to apply the natural kajal to her skin. “By making myself a subject, I am trying to understand different reactions. Talking with people from different walks opens different kinds of platforms for your protest. For instance, I was recently invited to conduct a protest outside the Hyderabad Central University premises.”
Jaya is also documenting her entire experiment through photographs, videos and a calendar to be released on the 100th day. “Often, we find calendars with visually appealing images of fair-skinned models or beautiful nature. But if you look at the timeline of historical struggles, the achievements of the Dalit community is not marked. We only know of Ambedkar day or Ayyankali. The calendar I design will have the images from the days of my protest.”...