By Neha Kirpal
Gurgaon-based anonymous visual and performance artist Princess Pea first rose to prominence at the 2009 India Art Fair in Delhi. Known for creating meaningful art that emphasises the importance of a voice, her work revolves around themes such as women’s rights, feminism, body positivity and other issues in the same space.
She engages in dialogue with the audience who participate both actively and passively with her art, which expands into performances, photography and toy series of wooden dolls.
Princess Pea’s art-based workshops aim to lower inhibitions and encourage sharing of personal narratives amongst the attendees while promoting self-reflection by leveraging the women’s creative talents.
Some of the activities that facilitate this discussion on self, self-worth and dignity include the creation of an empathy map to understand an internal and external balanced life better, building a fictional story as a group in real-time to encourage problem solving skills, and expressing artistic ideas of dignity from everyday life.
Recently, Princess Pea worked on a campaign titled Khud Se Pooche, a women-led collective movement that invites the women of Patna, Bihar, to lead a movement for change around accessing dignified healthcare services. The project has seen about 600 women ambassadors join the movement since its inception in September this year.
Through the workshops, the women worked with Princess Pea to co-create a visual representation of the project – a symbol using textiles, embroidery and patchwork that represents ‘dignity in healthcare’. This symbol will further go on to become a part of a greater site-specific art installation, both of which will launch in Patna today.
We spoke to her about the initiative and her artistic journey.
How did you decide to become an anonymous visual and performance artist?
I started this project in 2008 when social media was buzzing with new accounts and online social existence became a part of our daily ritual. I was always skeptical and rather dubious about the whole idea of presence and the public projection.
To me, anonymity is luxury, a state of self-treat. I always imagined creating work through which one can bring conversations together, where one can share and see themselves through it.
As a performing artist, I perform life and its absurdity and discover wonder in the midst of monotony. Each performance operates on many levels, like the act of living and role-playing itself, further accentuating through the persona of Princess Pea.
Pea here means many things – the escape from the real to the fantastical, or the paracosmic or vice versa; the courage to be all that you want to be and do, or perhaps an escape or hiding. Each act in its futility excavates the larger performance of gender and its weights in social and cultural living.
Why do you prefer to keep your identity anonymous to the public?
I’m Nobody! Who are you? The thing about the unknown, unnamed, and the anonymous are that they are pseudo-someones. They cannot be identified as someone in particular, because they may also be many and are at least one person. The only thing they can never be is no one.
Through this intervention in the historical axis, Princess Pea masks the process of becoming known with the reverse process, let’s call it ‘dis-identification’.
Give our readers some examples of how you align your art towards themes, such as women’s rights, feminism, body positivity, and other issues in the same space through thought-provoking artworks in various mediums, such as performances, photographing, and toy series of wooden dolls.
Over the years, I have been working with women belonging to diverse class-economy-religion-based social structures in India. My work documents, archives and creates spaces for sharing, recuperation, rehabilitation, and action, in a large and visibly male social / public space.
I use storytelling in the light of desires and aspirations as therapy for compromised ambitions due to lack of education, marriage, motherhood, and jobs, all of which are family-based symptoms where the expectation of ‘sacrifice’ is placed onto women.
The conversations bring these women and their stories into various visible social settings including performances, talks, fashion and film, and towards an archive managed by these women on the internet and books. The work attempts to create congregational spaces for women to meet, share, picnic, and archive these stories of personal heroism that are almost always lost.
The most excellent stories are stories of women and their domestic, personal lives. I want to excavate these extraordinary stories of ordinary women.
Tell us more about your recent collaboration with the campaign Khud Se Pooche.
I have been working with housewives, small entrepreneurs, differently-abled women along with women who have suffered abuse, suffer from body image-related violence and mental health amongst themes of visibility and systemic erasure.
This project enables us to build empathy and understand the gaps in healthcare. At many levels, thinking about “care” and what it means when it comes to self, family, and society at large, I intend to build a workshop module very closely with the Khud Se Pooche team, to build ambassadors in the small clusters in Patna and along with women to develop a “symbol of care with dignity”.
The symbol is not just a drawing but an emblem of their collecting voice to claim dignity and build knowledge about care and self-worth.
Tell us more about the art-based digital workshop you took to take the women through a journey of self-reflection by leveraging their creative talents. What response did you receive?
The aim of this women-led initiative is to collect a set of knowledge by sharing, accessing, passing, daily rituals, and respecting the gestures of vulnerability, making the neglected comfortable.
This exercise is an attempt to bring women closer, make them see themselves differently but respect their beliefs, and install new ideas through each other’s life expectancies. The plan was to build trust, engage in a dialogue of empathy, address fragility, be inclusive and comprehensive.
The workshop module is a combined worksheet of personality and empathy mapping. Personal stories were shared by me and women questioning care and dignity and its importance. An extensive discussion was done about the meaning of self-care and role play, leaving the discussion open for women to share their experiences.
Tell our readers about the symbolic and visual representation of the movement that you co-created along with the women using textiles, embroidery, and patchwork that represents ‘dignity in healthcare’.
Through a series of art-based workshops held with the cohort of women ambassadors from Khud Se Pooche, I engaged directly with a diverse range of women using tools such as empathy maps, circle of life, interpretations of colours and objects, and storytelling.
The insights from these sessions and the participation of women have formed the basis for the symbol of the campaign: the safety pin as a representation of a safe space.
‘Care with Dignity’ is achieved not just with the efforts of women but also doctors, nurses and caregivers who work in solidarity to create the intended safe spaces. The unassuming pin, then, becomes a symbol of individual strength as well as a collective effort, mutual respect, and of trust. It also acts as a reminder of self-care and self-awareness.
We are working with 75 local artisans in Bihar to create the installation that will be up at Sumati Place, Boring Road, Patna, on 22 November (on view till early December). The installation keeps in mind the women of Bihar, and so the technique and the medium had to be indigenous to their community.
The installation has been created using the fine applique needlework. The brief given to each woman artisan is to weave the symbol together in the same way she weaves her relationship with all the passion she possesses for her family using fabrics from their homes. The base 40 feet fabric for the artwork used is cotton.
Tell us more about your ‘I. Me. We. You.’ project of meeting women in your society across Delhi. What were some of your interesting findings?
We are a group of diverse known and unknown women, where I as the artist and initiator largely work as an archivist and medium for these stories to be found, told and disseminated.
With proxies, I have managed to use the idea of the sculptural head to make women feel more comfortable and safer to narrate without fear, who they are and what they wish to be.
Desires by women are rare in most socio-economic-religious-caste based cultural constructions of Indian society – we use the mask as an antidote, a private moment of reflection through which we are also able to infiltrate glossy magazines, fashion weeks, film and the internet (spaces that most of us do not have any access to or knowledge of).
I have over the past three years been able to identify and find these spaces where over a thousand stories have been told.
Lead image: Suryan Dang / The Pea Family Studio