‘Meals on wheels’ — while a novel concept, it brings little else to the table in Mumbai — metaphorically, of course. From food trucks that constantly change locations, NGOs who have started initiatives based off the same idea, and so on; there’s little else left. However, it turns out Mumbai is about to be graced with wheels dishing out knowledge with a healthy side of feminism. Aqui Thami’s ‘Sister.Library’ is more than just another run-of-the-mill mobile library; it’s about creating active spaces for sharing books with people from different backgrounds. Specifically, books or work by women.
“I have previously established informal reading rooms at art spaces like ‘What About Art’ and ‘Dharavi Art Room’, and opened a temporary alternative book space at Underground Bookhouse which focused on materials published outside the mainstream and especially hard to find materials that have been self-published,” says Aqui, for whom a travelling library simply seems like a natural next step, rather than a new venture. A firm believer in creating art that addresses political or social issues, ‘Sister.Library’ was a result of a decision she made three years ago, when she noticed how her own reading material suffered from sexual inequality.
“Reading women exclusively (in academia and outside) greatly altered my life and I wanted to share this gift with everybody. There’s a huge difference between how male and female authors are received. Fewer people pick books written by female authors due to the lack of promotions for the same,” she says, elaborating on the inspiration behind ‘Sister.Library’.
Aqui’s previous work as well as her association with Bombay Underground, led her to several artists, which further helped curate her collection, beyond the reading she had done over the past three years. Today, the mix consists of fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, zines, community newspapers that revolve around female excellence as well as hard-to-find works focusing on menstruation, abortion, hormonal health, sexual health, dealing with trauma and violence, etc. Additional submissions to her collection are always welcome, as Aqui is planning on writing to other authors/zinesters for copies of their work.
Her project received support by the Inlaks Fine Art Award 2018, an award for young artists to develop their talent. Thus, Sister Library grew, continuing to engage an in-depth reflection on the visual and reading culture of our times, with the promise of its very own tour across six difference cities in India. “While on tour, the work will be exhibited in a city for a week, during which apart from the library, there will be an activity space for people to create work from their interaction with the work they came across in the library. There will be a space for people to purchase particular work as well, and a video documentation that will collect shared experiences around struggles, ideas and solidarities. It will be a continuously evolving, modified by the interactions with the site and people, therefore every show will be unique,” says Aqui, on the upcoming tour.
So far, the six cities she has zeroed in on, are Bangalore, Cochin, Delhi, Goa, Mumbai and Pune. The library will be shown in collaboration with art centres and artist spaces in these cities.
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