“For Sex Workers, I Think Art Can Be Deeply Healing:”
We came across Shilo Shiv because one of our friends was shooting a documentary on her story and life. We were blown away. Shilo is wise beyond her years. At only 23, she’s given a TED talk with over 800, 000 views, illustrated a dozen children’s books (her first at the age of 16), and released her own interactive fantasy iPad app called Khoya.
In an exclusive interview with Anchal Project, she gives us a peek into her brilliant creative mind and her thoughts on design, art and magic in today’s world.
Q: How do you believe design and art can create social impact?
I think design and art impact society in two ways. The first is obvious: every campaign or social cause needs iconography around it that becomes it’s driving force through society and social media. I really felt the power of this when a poster I designed for a campaign against women in India being beaten up just because they wore jeans or drank a beer. It went completely viral and got over 70,000 people on that Facebook page.
When I was 18, I started a group called Artivism where we’d do pro bono graphic design work for NGOs we believed in. Art and its relation with the community is something that fascinates me as well. A few friends and I started a group called the Bangalore Wallflowers where we’d get together with non-artists over the simple act of painting a wall and reclaiming a community aesthetic. On one level, the wall was prettier and the neighborhood restored. On another level, however, a lot of people who were afraid of taking action, afraid of leaving a mark, afraid of paint on a blank wall could finally begin to get over their fears.
The second way is on the subtle level and I find it most interesting:
Beauty is as functional as breath. I’m starting to really feel like just creating beautiful objects that are true to us and our subtle nature is so important. In a world where we’re driven by usability, functionality, fast food, cars and connections, I think there’s an increasing need for creators of beautiful things. We need more moments to appreciate things beyond their function, moments where beauty is both the means and the end.
Q: We work with sex workers from slum & red light districts areas. What role can magic play in marginalized and poor communities?
I was traveling through the salt deserts of Kutch district [Gujarat state of India] earlier this year. It really came as a bit of a revelation to me that in rural spaces like Kutch and Rajasthan [State of India], beauty and magic aren’t a luxury of higher classes, but is essential to life. Every house is painted, every skirt is stitched with love and care, every woman would weave her own dowry. And this was our wealth, our abundance: beautiful things. In villages, until late at night Satsangs [i.e., communal gatherings] go on, there are shadow puppets and dancers and it’s all just for the community itself. This too is magic.
When we move into cities somehow the poor/marginalized living in slums and surrounded by such a vast and vulgar display of economic disparities lose a little of that. I feel like urban setups make one constantly dissatisfied: beauty and magic become a luxury, movies are only really enjoyed if in fancy multiplexes. I find this quite sad.
I feel like we need to move back and disconnect magic and beauty from wealth and reclaim magic as a right.
Particularly in the context of sex workers though, I really think art can be deeply transforming and healing. Nothing has healed me, no “guru” has taught me, like my art has.
Q: Who is your greatest female mentor? How have they inspired you?
Apart from being one of the artistic inspirations in my life, my mother has also brought both me and my brother up on her own and through her art. I think that’s always been a pretty big encouragement to me, that a family can be run on pigment and pixel, that one can survive all hurdles as long as one’s love for one’s work keeps one going. And that kind of trust in art and one’s love for it has really been the biggest influence.
“Let the Beauty of What you Love be What You Do,” said Rumi, and because of having my mother’s influence around me, I’ve learnt to trust that completely.
Thank you to Shilo for inspiring! Follow her incredible work: