A movement, through its pictures
From the outset, Rajashri Dasgupta and Laxmi Murthy’s Our Pictures, Our Words is an untraditional work. Vibrantly coloured, full of illustrations (in addition to the posters that comprise the heart of this book), and featuring pull-out boxes and timelines, this first seems like more of a textbook or introductory guide than your typical, academic, women’s studies operation. Given that I work with one of the authors (Laxmi Murthy is the director of Hri, and Rajashri Dasgupta is an editorial contributor to Himal), this is in no way a review – although I am encouraging everyone I know who would be interested to buy it. Rather, I’d like to focus on what this book does: its use of archival material to paint a truly vivid portrait of the women’s rights movement in India. I find the visual aspect of this book so compelling for a number of reasons, many of which may reveal only gaps in my own knowledge. Until relatively recently, I was unaware the women’s movement in India had this history, as a movement. There’s quite a difference between isolated campaigns by disconnected groups, and the sense of shared politics and will for change that a movement embodies. These posters also demonstrate the commitment and creativity of its members, and reveal a desire to communicate across levels of class and education. The posters also underline an emphasis on accessibility – this work on the women’s movement is not your Marxist-post-structuralist essay collection! It contains in its pages political, social and intellectual history and analysis, but in language and style that many, reading in English, will find relatable. Both authors are journalists who have been involved with the women’s movement over the past three decades.
I also find this book – the particular use of posters – significant for another reason. As archival documents, the pictures and slogans provide a historical context for understanding the contemporary situation of women’s rights in India, as well as a map of how changes came to pass. It can be very easy to be overwhelmed by injustice. Books like this one may be able to explain the ideas, decisions, and processes that enable social change.
For more information on the poster archives project, visit: http://posterwomen.org/Posterwomen/
And for more on the book from Zubaan, the publishers, go to http://www.zubaanbooks.com/zubaan_books_details.asp?BookID=182