Louder Whisper Coded sounds in connecting 'Spokes'

Curated by Meena Vari

¶ Moments of a Long Pause

M. I have known you some years now and admire your persistence with the project Blank Noise. The project has not only become popular but has affected so many people in various ways. Could you please share the journey so far with the project?

J. The project began from a space of anger; of wanting to do ‘something’ about personal daily experiences of street harassment and not having the space or the vocabulary to do anything about it. There was a sense of normalcy and acceptance around street sexual violence. It was being dismissed of as just ‘teasing’ ; as that which ‘happens’, there’s nothing you can do about it’. Blank Noise was initiated in 2003 while I was student at Srishti; dealing with both the everyday experience of fear and sexual threat on the streets and also worth the idea of how as an artist I could work the public.

The project began with a 3 month period of workshops that involved 9 all girl participants. This was an intimate phase of the project. It shared insights on the issue from the lived experiences of 9 girls. After graduation I was confronted with questions such as; ‘Who is the public?’ ‘Where is the public?’ ‘What medium can I work with? How do I manage funding?'

I was offered the position of a research associate at Srishti for a year after graduation to develop Blank Noise. I spent that year exploring the issue in ways that ranged from, interviewing women bus conductors, reading testimonials of sexual violence and realizing that women often described what they wore while sharing an experience, walking the streets with a camera and responding to harassers on the street by taking their photographs. In 2005 the Blank Noise blog http://blog.blanknoise.org was created. The interactions on the blog began to determine the nature of the project. An early part of 2005 involved sharing photographs of harassers on the blog. This project idea provoked reactions that led to defining the issue. People on the blogosphere raised questions around the nature of what constitutes harassment itself. Is staring harassment? Is harassment intangible? When is it flirting? What are the boundaries of teasing and flirting?

In 2006 a team of Blank Noise members hosted a blog based event called the Blogathon. The Blogathon asked bloggers to share their experience of street sexual harassment. This event went viral. Testimonials of ‘eve-teasing’ were travelling from blog to blog. Suddenly ‘eve-teasing’ was being taken as a serious issue; as that which had affected and skewed women’s relationship with their cities and their bodies.

Since then Blank Noise has grown into a network of Action Heroes (volunteers) from across cities. Blank Noise addresses the notion of blame, shame and guilt in relation to experiencing sexual violence. An ongoing project involves women to send clothes they were wearing when they experienced harassment. Each garment speaks; there’s no such thing as ‘asking for it’. The garments are installed on city streets during public events.
Action Heroes are female volunteers.

http://blog.blanknoise.org/2010/06/what-is-action-hero.htmlMale volunteers are known as BN Guys. Action Heroes create street actions on being idle in the city. They are Action Heroes in the way they constantly confront fear.

Blank Noise is a public conversation around fear and the city, around codes amongst strangers, about sexual violence and flirting, about attitudes. It exists in the multitudes of dialogues, debates, arguments, counter arguments and testimonials it builds around ‘eve-teasing’/ street sexual harassment.

My engagement with Blank Noise has influenced me. It’s forced me to question my own attitudes towards the meaning of ‘victim and perpetrator’ as it has taken me through multiple lived realities that are connected by an everyday experience. It has made me confront my fears with a spirit of aspiring ‘Action Hero-ism’.