Beautiful murals of an Indian woman riding astride a fierce tiger have cropped up in India over the last six months, with speech bubbles broadcasting positive messages like "Fight violence" into the streets. The depictions come from the UN-recognized comic book, Priya's Shakti, a project by Indian filmmaker Ram Devineni, with poet Vikas K. Menon, and illustrator Dan Goldman, which details one woman's epic journey from rape survivor to tiger-riding superhero after an encouter with Parvati, the Hindu godess of fertility. Now, on May 7, Priya, Parvati, and the tiger come to New York, transforming the City Lore Gallery into a life-sized augmented reality comic book.
"Priya’s Shakti highlights the threat of sexual harassment and violence that women face on a daily basis unless deeply rooted patriarchal norms are challenged," Devineni explains. "Priya is a new hero for a modern India.” Originally published in late 2014, Priya's Shakti was created in response to rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student two years prior, a tragedy which sparked nationwide protests and brought issues of violence against women to international media attention. “Talking with several rape survivors, I realized how difficult it was for them to get justice,” says Devineni. “Often, they do not report crimes out of fear for their lives, or to avoid the backlash they may face from their family, authorities, and community. The burden of shame is placed on the victim and not the perpetrators."
As Vice News reported last year, Priya's Shakti has been credited with encouraging debate around India's sexual assault problem, and UN Women honored Devineni as a "gender equality champion." Now Devineni, Menon, and Goldman join forces with narrator Shubhra Prakash, writer Paromita Vohra, and sound designer Rene Veronto to build a multimedia exhibition that brings the audience inside Priya's story.
Visitors to the City Lore Gallery will be able to interact with the "life-sized comic book" by way of the Blippar mobile app, which will add pictures, animated panels, survivor testimonies, and videos produced by Devineni and his media company, Rattapallax, into their dialogue about women's rights and sexual assault in India. Originally debuted at the Mumbai Film and Comics Convention 2014, the exhibit in New York is the next event in a worldwide tour that includes Canadian artist Paul Harder's in-progress bronze Priya sculpture, TEDx talks in London, Barcelona, Rome, and more, and a new chapter penned by Vohra, which will call on her 15-year-long career writing and making feminist films in India. Blippar also worked with Devineni to digitally augment the murals he and his team have painted throughout the country, distributing their message directly to the people it affects.
Today, Devineni premieres a series of 70's Bollywood films, rearranged into a retelling of Priya's story. In a 2012 report, feminist activist Kamla Bhasin told VICE, "The 2010 Bollywood blockbuster Dabangg and other films glorify violence and portray harassment as acceptable behavior. They are making it normal. In these films, even in love, men pull and push women around." Devineni describes the new remix, entitled Parvati Saves the World, to The Creators Project as, "like DJ Spooky’s remix of Birth of a Nation but this focuses on sexual violence." Watch the three-part series below:
Priya’s Shakti: Augmented Reality Comic Book and Exhibition opens at City Lore Gallery on May 7 as part of the PEN World Voices Festival of Literature.