When Bengaluru-based artist Indu Antony put together Cecilia’ed – her project that focuses on the safety of women in public spaces – she knew it would not start an overnight revolution, nor bring about a sudden change in deeply-entrenched patriarchal notions. Instead, she hoped to draw attention to the subtle ways in which women are excluded from male-dominated public spaces – and she did just that with the help of her friend, the flamboyant, 76-year-old Cecilia. Together, the two have created a buzz by hosting ‘reopening’ ceremonies for streets that are considered unsafe for women.
“I started the project in the area where I live. I have always witnessed the gender divide on the streets. Personally, once I collected information from the police, media, and the public, it was clear that women are unsafe in street corners, dark alleys, around bars and such,” Indu told The New Indian Express.
Cecilia is at the heart of Indu Antony’s project. Dressed in colourful outfits, all of which she styled herself, Cecilia transforms into a celebrity who drops by in fancy cars to ‘reopen’ streets for women. “When a politician or a celebrity appears in a public space, a crowd gathers around them. So, I transformed Cecilia into a celebrity and conducted street reopening events to create an audience for the larger issue – safety and freedom of women,” explained Indu.
At these ceremonies, pamphlets are handed out to bystanders. A helpline number is also shared where people can share their messages with the pre-recorded voice of Cecilia, reports Deccan Herald. The concerns are then shared further with NGOs.
It is an unconventional way to address the issues of female geography, gender, identity and public access, but Indu and Cecilia have had much success with their initiative.
“Can a woman lie down in a park late in the night? or buy affordable alcohol from a local bar? No! I hosted an open bar where a lot of women came and took over the shady bars we picked. The move had an unprecedented effect when it comes to normalising a male-dominated space,” said Indu.
The artist also revealed they once helped replace an electric bulb “that was being constantly destroyed by the men in the area because they prefer the area to be dark.”
Riding on the success of Cecilia’ed, Indu Antony has taken up several outreach programmes with the help of workshops, WhatsApp groups, published zines and pamphlets. The project has also received the Public Art Grant from the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA).