Artist, photographer and activist Leena Kejriwal’s installation project Missing creates awareness about girls who are kidnapped from Indian villages and sold as sex slaves around the world. The project, launched at the India Art Fair in 2014, goes a step further with a crowdfunding campaign on Wishberry, where the “artivist” aims to raise Rs.16 lakhs in 60 days (by July 31st, 2015) to create installations and develop a mobile application. Its pan-India awareness drives include the stencil project, where students and artists work with rescued girls from NGOs to put the MISSING silhouettes on city walls. She talks to The Goodwill Project after a recent show in New Delhi.
By Suhita Roy
What prompted the project Missing?
The fact that countless girls disappear into oblivion and are sexual exploited each day fills me with deep empathy. I wanted to do something for them. The response has been overwhelming and moved many to take action. The art installations will be put up in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Guwahati, Dhanbad, Ahmedabad, Pune and Hyderabad.
Are there any other activities planned alongside?
The silhouettes will be complimented with a smart device app which will bring the story of the girls alive through animation. This will encourage people to take action, such as signing petitions and volunteering for NGOs working towards anti-trafficking. The installations, to be put up during the Rahgiri (a public initiative in New Delhi’s Connaught Place), will be permanent ones. Since my project aims at engaging the public, I decided to go for crowd-funding and allow people to get involved from the start.
As an artist, how did you identify the materials to use for the installation?
The final work consists of larger-than-life black silhouettes of girls against the sky, which symbolise black holes into which millions of girls disappear from the face of the earth. The installations are made of weather-proof material, fiber glass and iron columns. I have been working on the issue of sexual trafficking and commodification of sex for a while now. When I started out, the large installations used layers of vinyl, paper, prints, lights and rope and succeeded in generating a very graphic experience. But, it was too complicated for everyone to understand. So I decided to simplify the language.
What roadblocks do families of missing children face?
Usually, the children who disappear are from a very poor background, from rural areas and have no exposure to the city, where they are often transported. It’s impossible for the parents to sustain the costs of a trip to a big city as well as food and lodging. They invariably cut short their search and return to their villages empty-handed in a couple of days. They follow up with the police, but can’t do much else. At times, NGOs do manage to nab traffickers and rescue children, but these incidents are rare. At the end of the day, there is a lot of zealous action, but the issue is huge and widespread.
Could you share some case studies of the missing girls?
I work with NGOs that prevent girls from disappearing into the dark holes of sexual slavery. A caregiver at Hamari Muskaan, an NGO, was trafficked by a family friend to a lady in Sonagachi, in Kolkata, at the age of 14. She was forced to have sex with multiple men daily. This girl eventually became a drunkard and hardened prostitute. He perception is that they sell their bodies voluntarily, little realising that they don’t have an option. She is now older and works with an NGO, where she keeps an eye on the girls in the area. Though the pay is not high, she is so proud of the respect she has earned.
Any cases where the child has been rescued?
I know a teenager who was found in a brothel raid when she was just nine-years-old. She was most likely from Rajasthan. Although she has been rehabilitated and is moving on in life, there can be no actual turning back for her.
Does the media give enough attention to news of missing persons?
Not really! A huge number of children are trafficked from Jharkand to the capital and I haven’t seen it make headlines. We come to know of it from other sources.
What next after this artwork?
The Missing project is my focus right now. I’m working on the app, creating animation and coordinating with fabricators. I wish to start these installations post monsoon.
Check out Leena Kejriwal’s crowd-funding campaign here:
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/missingpublicart
Watch Leena Kejriwal’s five-minute documentary, set in Kolkata, on Jaya Ghosh’s journey from a brothel to the Hamari Muskaan school.