Maraa on Women's Empowerment

By Audio Pervert - 11/14/2019

Maraa (which means tree in Kannada) is a media and arts collective based in Bangalore. The institution, however small and independent in structure, is fervent, dynamic and inclusive in it's projects and events going on round the year. Boldly they declare the manifesto in simple terms - Democratisation of Public Space + Strengthening Community Media + Politicising Artistic Practice. The foundations of Maraa are non-hierarchical in nature. "We are structured horizontally. All have different responsibilities but earn the same salary. We are free, even encouraged to disagree with each other even as we come to consensus on key decisions" reads their website. At the heart of Maraa, all programs are based on two lucid ideas - resistance and play. "Our creative practices are located in and informed by the everyday public spaces of the city. Through walks, projections, installations, and performances we grapple with questions of exclusion, access, and privilege in this rapidly transforming city" states Ekta, co-founder of Maraa. As mass-media and the mainstream entertainment industry wields huge space, power and bias - in political economy and culture, within structures, resources, mindset and agency - It also perpetuates nepotism, exclusion, sexism and elitism giving rise to mediocrity and icon worship. Maraa being one of the very few institutions in India which understands that overarching 'issue' and puts out active solutions, empowering artists and expanding public participation in culture. Hope based on resistance. We asked Ekta a few questions about the new projects at Maraa, the role of women's empowerment and the need to to draw attention to 'small acts of moral courage' (that subvert and break borders between people).

We recently heard about 'Chinmini Cross'... Sounds Amazing! What is it about?
Chinmini Cross came about after listening to stories from different workers in Bangalore. We felt that their identities usually get flattened in narratives and caught in binaries. We believe that beauty opens up a different way of seeing and engaging with people and breaks preconceived notions around stereotypical identities of people. But there's more ...Finding Chinimi Cross. How did that happen? Considering the bleak and violent socio-political environment around us, we paused to speculate and debate around the role of an arts festival and the artist, in times like these. What should the arts evoke in people: empathy, confrontation, anger or mourning? Chinmini Cross is an exercise to recognize the beauty, horror and pathos in daily life. We wish to draw attention to small acts of moral courage that subvert the borders drawn between us. To create a space of wonder and possibility, which is inclusive, and that refuses to wilt away.

Tell us a bit about Maraa's role in empowerment of women?
We have historically foregrounded women's voices particularly within the arts' sector, because it most definitely suppressed in several cultural institutions and public and private platforms. By virtue of this, we feel it is critical to reimagine, women taking the stage and subvert the mainstream discourse, and further contribute in the struggle and resistance to fight patriarchy. So we have in the past organised walks, performances, music concerts, talks where women have been at the centre of its creation.We feel that art is politics and we should not shy away from recognising that women have historically and culturally turned to the arts, to express their lived experiences and world views 🙋‍♂️

What challenges do you face? Institutionally? Or even personally?
Funding is a problem. People sometimes do not get the intersectional quality about our work.
It requires us to be focused on one particular thing, while we are interested in presenting complexity in our work, because we see the interconnectedness of labour, caste, gender, faith, identity playing out in any context. We also sometimes resist accepting funding for the arts, since we don't want it to dictate when and how we need to do things. These reflections and residues, transform into festivals and inform our choices of whom we would like to host and whose work we would like to highlight. We also face difficulty in sustaining audiences, because usually we struggle with publicity and we are not able to grapple with the competition from other venues and organisations, that have budgets for the same and are able to market their events at a larger scale.We wish to reach out to a lot more young people, because our arts programme in some ways is also pedagogical and we feel can give young people creative ideas to think and imagine. Also, most people don't read, and hence may not understand the nuances of our work...

Does it help women and how so?
Yes, by hosting their shows and performances. By sharing their work in public we learn a lot in the process as well. Cultural institutions approach us to curate their festivals and there too we try to keep a focus on women and sexual minorities. We feel that when women speak out, it directly communicates the message to audiences and cuts out the mediator, middle men and media.

Radio In A Purse(RIP) is a process which hopes to capture the topography of sexual violence in the city, through the experience of its students. As the name evokes, Radio In A Purse is a handbag filled with audio objects (recorders, laptop, headphones) as well as other facilitation techniques and cues to encourage listening and sharing of experiences. The purse is open for acts of listening (through stories already collected in the purse) and acts of recording (through recording one’s testimony, experience, a challenge, confusion or question.) Borrowing from older methods of community radio, the purse can be easily set up and dismantled and can adapt itself to various public spaces.The purse has already begun its travels to colleges, situating itself in informal public spaces in and around campuses, to collect stories, testimonials, questions and challenges around sexual violence. To see and listen, visit

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