resting on insomnia
Resting on Insomnia
26 March to 11 May, 2018
A forty-seven day durational performance
My compulsion in addressing sexual violence in India began in response to a child rape story. In 2018 an eight-year old girl from a nomadic Muslim community was gang-raped in a Hindu temple resulting in her death. The Indian mainstream media reported two separate movements, one of protest for the victim and the other of support for the perpetrator, especially by elected politicians. Many of those who protested on the side of the dead girl were physically assaulted. While this case has weighed significantly on my mind, it is in no way unique. Following an initial impulse to examine the extent of sexual violence in India, I was able to locate a news story detailing a separate rape in just the northern part of India alone. I thought about the scale of sexual violence against women, its relation to vulnerability and societal acclimatization, and became compelled to do a project.
First thinking about the vigilant state women must assume, I adhered nails to the walls of my studio, facing inward. Normally accustomed to using my studio walls for back support while reading, working, and eating, the restricted movement of the body in the space was an enactment of the voices of rape victims, reminding me not to rest, not to touch, not to be touched, to be vigilant, to protect femininity. The final part of the performance was open to public participation in which I wore a dress stitched with needles instead of thread. Text from the found rape news articles were printed on paper and pierced by the nails. The spectators/participants removed the punched papers as an act toward freeing the victims from harm. The participants then used clay to cover the punched hole or edit the text, establishing the performance as a process of healing. The nails were then plucked off the walls and immersed in the jug of clay slip. Each time a nail was removed, a needle from my dress was removed and stitched with janeu by the participants. The participants wiped their clayed fingers on white handkerchieves which were later sewn to the dress as a signifier of the healing. The performance lasted until all the nails from the wall and the needles from my dress were removed.
I appreciate and thank my teachers, friends, and family who collaboratively healed with me—Robert Dansby, Anupam Singh, Carolina Hicks, Hanieh Khatibi, Justin Serulneck, Bethany Elmer, Max Syron, John Wu, Hannah Naomi Varamini, Beth Fiedorek, Scott Lee.
According the World Health Organization, 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
Janeu are white holy thread worn by Brahmin (Hindu) men across their torso as a symbol of maleness which also signifies the goddesses of power, wealth, and knowledge.