Essentials: A Public Art project by Fearless Collective 

Ishika Aggarwal
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fearless collective

In the moment of fear, Fearless collective is using the power of art to help enhance the voices of Essential Workers


Passing through the Jorbagh road, right a few steps away from the Lodhi Colony’s bus stop, you may find an artsy wall, on which powerful portraits of women are elegantly painted representing women empowerment and the importance of essential workers in our lives. On one end, there is a portrait of women from the Valmiki Community and on the other, a portrait of women from the Muslim community, holding up the city of Delhi. On the top and bottom centre of this wall, the words ‘Essentials’ and ‘Fearless’ respectively are written. Through an immersive storytelling process, and working with women of Waste Pickers in Bangalore and Delhi, this mural made by Fearless Collective is to envisions to change narratives around how we treat the land, life, and labour.

fearless collective

On the left side of this wall, a portrait of Renu Devi’s sister has been painted. Renu Devi is one of the women who painted this wall. She told us that “she is a single mother and amid the lockdown, it was more like all the sources for livelihood have been cut for them and they have got no option else than sitting at homes. They managed the lockdown all together by the help provided by the government. With her being involved in painting this mural, she feels empowered. She feels like the way, “bade log” gets ‘sammaan’ (respect) in this country, we should also get the same respect, ‘gareebo ko bhi vahi samaan milna chaiye and this painting makes her a sense of respect and representation“.

Read more: Gulmeher: A Women’s collective turning waste pickers to artisans

fearless collective

Gayatri Ganju, a member of Fearless Collective explaining about the campaign, said, ” ‘Essential’ is a collaborative public art project led by Fearless Collective, which will explore how we treat the land, life, and labour in the social context of a pandemic where ‘essential’ workers are treated as ‘disposable’ lives, and disposable plastics permeate nearly every part of our landscapes. Like most of the other times, they are working with an all-women team this time as well. Most of these women we have been working with belong to Vivekananda Camp, Chanakyapuri and belong to really marginalized communities who have been really erased from the picture of our cities and the work these women do is really essential to us. Hence, Essentials look for the lives, the labour of these women and how essential their work and their lives are. These are women who get up before it is light even, perhaps at 4 or 5 a.m. and essentially do their work of picking the garbage and COVID has only added more to their plight”

Fearless has worked on various other murals all around the world. It is a South Asian based art project that believes in creating spaces to move from fear to love using participative public art. Shilo Shiv Suleman, Founder and the Creative Director of said, “Fearless started in 2012 as a Banglore based project, in response to the “Nirbhaya” tragedy in Delhi. With the lockdown, we thought of switching to digital spaces but then we realized that digital spaces are even more exclusive. The marginalized don’t have access to it and hence, they get even more marginalized. And as we name ourselves, “Fearless”, in the times of COVID, everyone has their own fear. So, with these public arts, we thought of creating beauty and talking about that fear.”

Essentials is a project that is essentially working with the women from rag pickers community who are dominantly Muslim and Dalit. Shilo, telling about the campaign in the light of the recent case in Hathras, said, “strangely enough, even after 8 years of Nirbhaya, we find ourself in a moment where it is not stopping, the narrative is not shifting. For us, it became essential to work with the women from the waste picking community because they have become even more marginalised during this time. Waste segregation was basically not made an essential service during this lockdown marginalizing the already marginalized women of this community.

Fearless not only glorifies the power of public arts but also empowers strong voices from the public domain. Through Essentials, they are giving women a sense of affirming their self-representations, collectively envision the futures they would like to create and re-imagine the possibilities of the present while reclaiming and transforming public spaces that are significant to them.

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