Earlier this week, a photoshoot titled The Wrong Turn by Indian photographer Raj Shetye was released, depicting women being restrained on a bus in a manner simulating the infamous 2012 Delhi bus rape that resulted in the death of a young woman. And I believe this photoshoot is an enabler of women’s rights.
Yes, you read that correctly. I fully believe that this photoshoot, regardless of the perceived outcome, was originally intended as a wakeup call to the Indian community…and to an arguable degree has been perceived as such.
Wouldn’t it be negligent […] not to consider the other side of the matter?
With memories of a the 2012 Delhi bus rape still prevalent, this photoshoot has struck close to home for many. The incident, which saw a a 26 year old student sexually assaulted by six men, threw India’s treatment of women into global attention resulting in tougher laws against rapists but daily attacks are still a common occurrence. I believe this is what spurred the artist on to create these images. Mr Shetye himself has issued a statement about his work, explaining to The Guardian, “The aim is purely to create art that will garner public opinion about issues that concern women. It breaks my heart to see my mother, my friends, my sister constraining themselves professionally and personally just to be safe.”
Waiting for media attention to die down can have its benefits in regards to such topics as these. It allows us to evaluate with fresh eyes and perhaps a less vindictive tone. People were, and still are, outraged by the event of 2012– and rightfully so as the young woman who was raped ultimately succumbed to her injuries. It is entirely understandable that people interpret this photoshoot as glamourising crime or oppressing women’s rights. These are valid interpretations which are ultimately out of the artist’s control, as is the way with all art. But wouldn’t it be negligent – downright ignorant of us – not to consider the other side of the matter? While I certainly agree that the piece was rather hamfisted, as noted previously we have access to the artists own view on the piece.
“The aim is purely to create art that will garner public opinion about issues that concern women.” — Raj Shetye
And so we come to the point of artistic interpretation. Does the artists intention truly matter or is it simply public opinion that decides what any given piece of art should mean? Of course, the subject matter itself is less of a concern than the context. Art has always commented on similarly horrific topics – war, murder, apartheid, slavery, rape, paedophilia…the list goes on. And this isn’t a case isolated to India. Don’t believe me? Check out the reactions to last years Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke, a song which stirred up a great deal of rape sentiment. While song lyrics are a far cry from the culture of rape that is clearly still dominant in India, it does tell us that these are issues that affect all of us to some degree.
Ultimately, yes, the outcry was justified as a knee-jerk reaction. But shouldn’t we be looking at this as a piece that says “This is happening, and this is not ok,” and is at least trying to improve the situation?
Featured image; Jared Zimmerman