LEENA KEJRIWAL: VOICE OF THE MISSING GIRL

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Kolkata: Have you heard of the “Missing” game app? Also, have you spotted a life-sized black coloured silhouette of a girl,  on the street walls of Kolkata? Off late, Kolkata has been witnessing this wall graffiti gaining popularity in the city. These silhouettes are no ordinary wall graffiti, but part of MISSING, an ongoing public art project, by a Kolkata-based photographer and installation artist. Thanks to her endeavours, the MISSING project has become a global movement.

Meet Leena Kejriwal, an artist with a difference. For not every day does an artist marry off art with activism nor advocacy. But Kejriwal has done that and more. Through her installations, artworks and the much recent addition – online gaming app,  Kejriwal, advocates for a greater cause – stop Human Trafficking.

Kejriwal insists that she is no activist but an artist. She says, “I was married off into a typical Marwari family, where patriarchy rules. So, I kept being the stereotypical good wife and a doting mother of two kids, till I realised that photography, was all that I wanted to do.”

Leena Kejriwal and missing art
Leena Kejriwal with her art installation
Leena realises her dream

Kejriwal, who in her fifties, unlike other artists, began quite late. “I had always pursued photography as a hobby. I often used to sneak out early in the morning, to capture the beauty of Kolkata. During one such shoot, during the early wee hours, I realised that I needed to take photography more seriously. A compilation of my Kolkata-centric photograph (most of them in black and white) made me come up with Calcutta: Repossessing the City, a book, which was more like insider’s manual of the city. It became a bestseller. And then came my photographic installations, which went on to become my signature,” she says.

Kejriwal shot to the limelight, with her photographic installations at the Delhi Art Fair, 2014. The work got her international recognition. She feels that as an artist, she had a smaller reach, limited to art galleries. And to expand her reach, she needed to let her artwork into wall graffitis.

Missing Girl Campaign

“The art installation was getting all the recognition. But its message was definitely not reaching those, who needed to get it. Thus, I came up with this idea of having black silhouettes of a girl with #missing written, splashed across city walls. We tied up with NGOs, teachers, and schools, made students a part of this. For its girls of this age that are trafficked and boys of the same age end up being the buyers,” she adds. Explaining the silhouettes, she says, “These are like the black holes, where the trafficked girls go missing. And I am happy that I have been able to build some awareness with this campaign of mine.”

Leena Kejriwal's silhouette aims at raising the issue of human trafficking
The ‘Missing Girls’ silhouette

Elaborating on her transition from being a photographer to an artist advocating a cause, she says, “I needed to visit the red light areas of Kalighat for one of my project. The empty, expressions of the sex workers I encountered, lingered on to mind, long after, I was done with it. Their eyes seemed to be shrieking for help. This was something that my mind refused to erase. I think this experience of mine, in some way, made me broaden my vision.” This experience along with the fact that West Bengal records the maximum number of human trafficking cases in India, played a vital role in giving a direction to her work.

Art with a cause

Kejriwal, mentions, “Ruchira Gupta and her NGO Apne Aap Worldwide, gave a specific direction to my artwork, which is to work for gender equality. There is so much of violence happening against women, across the world. It’s not just India. We need to analyse or do some research on why women are being violated, across the world. You see the Bangalore mass molestation case; it needs a certain kind of a mindset for such a thing to happen.”

She feels, “Common man needs to understand the horrors of human trafficking. This will stop them from creating a demand for flesh trade.” She then goes on to add, “My gaming app – Missing,  makes a player step into the shoes of a trafficked girl. The challenge of the player to make the girl escape, unharmed. However, if the player misses his hints then he has to go through the agony that a trafficked girl undergoes. It’s disturbing, but it gives a bigger message to men – don’t create a demand for flesh trade.”

The game has been so much appreciated that Kejriwal has been shortlisted as a speaker at Games For Change conference. The event will be hosted in New York, towards the end of July. Wonder, if the game will bring about a change in the social fabric? Time will tell.

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