"The Un-Mourning Song" - Sheelasha Rajbhandari
(In collaboration with the Shanti Bai from Sandur Kala Kushala Kendra, Dr. Jayshree Kulkarni from JSW Foundation and artist Kashinath.V.Kale)
‘The Un-Mourning Song’ is a three dimensional visual narrative of two women - Dr. Jayshree Kulkarni and Shanti Bai - who have empowered themselves by overcoming their painful pasts. Sheelasha met these women during her residency at JSW Foundation, India.
Dr. Jayshree holds a PhD degree. She is a manager at OPJ center, JSW Foundation, and works on empowering women. One of her major projects is to make minimum cost sanitary napkins and encourage deprived women to use them .Shanta Naik is a Lambani master artisan. She is in charge of mirror and embroidery sections at Sandur Kala Kushala Kendra. She is an expert in typical Lambani embroidery techniques which is not commonly in practice and has won multiple national awards for her works. Both women come from contrasting backgrounds (Dr Jayshree is an urban, educated woman while Shanta has a rural background and did not go through a formal education system), yet their personal histories have astonishing similarities. Both of them are about same age, and they also share similar family issues as well as stories of economic struggles.
The Lambani community has a rich culture of expression of personal stories through words and songs. One such tradition consists of weeping called "Manlo", when two women meet after a long time and both cry and narrate the major events they experienced ever since their last meeting. Here, women weep not because of pain but of the contentment of meeting and sharing - an un-mourning song.
Similar emotions were expressed by Dr. Jayshree and Shanti when I introduced them to each other. But in this case, they had never met before.
The artwork has three panels. The first panel depicts Shanti's life, the third panel depicts Dr. Jayshree's life and the panel between these two depicts the experience of their meeting. In the second panel, the artist used sanitary napkins and embroidery - since Dr. Jayshree makes sanitary napkins and Shanti embroiders - the mediums and materials which empowered the two featured women. When the two women met, they had intense emotional exchanges. They were also extremely inspired by each other. The beautiful conversations between them have been embroidered by a red thread on the canvas of white sanitary napkins.
In Lambani tradition, patch work is often practiced - pieces of different textiles are sewn together to make a new piece. Likewise, in the first and third panels, the artist used Shanti's, Shanti’s son's and Dr. Jayshree's personal clothes, which they wore at different phases of their lives. The panels contain both women's embroidered portraits as well. The portraits were made in reference to the traditional shadow puppet characters by local artist Kashinath.V.Kale.