Worldwide, the campaign poster, an immediate, often ephemeral form of art and communication, used to mark an occasion, to mobilize support, to confront opposition, has received considerable recognition both for its aesthetics and its politics. In India, however, while film posters and some art posters have received a little recognition, the political poster has not had much attention. And yet, different forms of political mobilization have made use of posters, and many campaigns, such as the campaign for the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, or against the Narmada dam, are remembered as much for their actions and strategies, as they are for the posters that accompanied them. This is also true of the Indian women's movement.
Since the early seventies, the period that is characterized as giving rise to the contemporary women's movement in India, virtually every campaign has been marked by the production of interesting, colourful, eye-catching posters.For the many feminist/women's groups that were born at this time out of student, left and peasant movements, the poster played an important role and remained an important mobilizational tool. Tragically, however, if there is one thing activist groups lack, it is an understanding of the importance of documenting their own history. And preserving the primary material they generate. Thus much of the history of activism, of organizing and mobilizing, of the euphoria of the early days of street level protest, has been lost to the movement and to history. Posters, being even more ephemeral than documents and other 'grey' literature, have also, by and large, suffered this fate. And yet, as this project shows, not everything is lost.
The Poster Women project began with the idea of locating and archiving as many posters of the movement as possible.The idea was to look at how the women's movement and its concerns could be mapped visually, to ask what the history of the movement would look like through its posters and the visual images it had used. When we initiated this project we were convinced that it was important to collect and document posters from the movement also because while the women's movement has been - and remains - an extremely rich, complex and multi-layered movement, it has never been very good at documenting itself. Many of the pamphlets the movement has generated have been lost, much material has been destroyed, and much is gathering dust in musty cupboards and drawers in different places.
When the project began, we had no idea it would catch on so fast, or that individuals and groups from all over the country would respond so enthusiastically. Posters began to pour in, in all kinds of shapes and sizes, some in very fragile condition, others wonderfully preserved. Many groups had no idea where their posters had gone, several said they had no time to locate posters as there were more pressing issues to deal with. Many knew they had this or that poster, but did not have the time to sift through endless piles of paper to locate them. Nonetheless, we managed to garner some 1500 posters and it is these that provided the base for this exhibition, and its accompanying catalogue.
Our collection, however, is uneven. There are issues, such as violence against women, on which the movement has generated a large number of images. But there are others such as the anti-alcohol campaign, or the campaign against widow immolation, on which there is very little. Similarly, some regions and languages remain unrepresented - groups from the south of India, for example, did not respond so well to our appeals for posters, and while some did send in material, many found they had not stored posters and so they had little to contribute. It is our hope that as the exhibition begins to travel and groups see the use of the posters, we will be able to garner more material, and therefore trace a richer history.
While this particular phase of the Poster Women project culminates in an exhibition that will travel to at least six cities, the project itself does not end there. Original prints of the posters, where available, will be housed in the Sound and Picture Archives for Women (SPARROW) in Mumbai.SPARROW will also house original digital scans of the entire collection. As well, each participating group - and there are at least 200 of these - will receive a full CD of all the posters that we have collected. This is intended as a resource and for educational use. In this way, we envisage that this project will have a life beyond the exhibition. Alongside, there will also be a book that carries essays on the various campaigns in the movement and that carries a much larger selection of posters than we have been able to include here. While some posters are on permanent display in the exhibition, others from the collection can be seen in a continuous loop on the video screen, so that viewers can get an idea of the wealth of material there is, and as the exhibition travels to different places, we hope to be able to change some of the exhibits to reflect local issues.
No project is complete without feedback. We would be delighted to hear from anyone who feels they have something to say on this project, its worth and usefulness, and its future. While we've thought of a few ways to use this valuable material, there must be hundreds more, and for that we need to hear from you.
Meanwhile, welcome to Poster Women.
While every effort has been made to clear the copyright permission to reprint the posters included in the Poster Women exhibition and any of the collateral associated with it this has not always been possible. We would like to apologize in advance to any group or individual whose posters may have been included here without permission and would appreciate any such inclusion being brought to our notice so that the requisite permission can be sought.
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