Sultana's Reality: a history of women and education through digital art

Sultana's Reality: a history of women and education through digital art

From being shut away in 'andarmahals' or inner chambers, where they had limited contact with the outside world, how did Indian women get to where we are today?

At the tech-art festival 'Be Fantastic Bengaluru', visitors got to explore the relationship between women and books in India through an interactive multimedia art project titled 'Sultana's Reality'.

The project by Bengaluru artist Afrah Shafiq uses archival images to tell the fascinating stories of women who were stoned for carrying umbrellas, who secretly read forbidden texts, and those who challenged these texts.  

Unlike history lectures, the experience is immersive as the viewer gets to interact with the story which follows Sultana as she goes back in time. Wit, sarcasm, captivating animation and images keep the viewer engaged.

The two-year project started with a research fellowship Afrah got, offered jointly by the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) and the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. The centre had an extensive archive of images, used by scholars for research, and they wanted to bring it to the public.

"I spent two months going through all the fascinating images they had from paintings to matchbox labels. I was interested to see how women were depicted and I started seeing patterns. There were so many pictures of women daydreaming, which was funny. The men are never shown this way," Afrah said.

Alongside, Afrah was also reading about the author of a 1905 book 'Sultana's Dream', Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain who was a pioneer of women's education. That inspired Afrah to trace the history of women and books in India, with an interactive storyboard.

Afrah plans to take the project to a few more festivals before making it accessible to the public on a website.

She also hopes to take 'Sultana's Reality' into classrooms. "I want to make it an educational project, maybe try to make it a module in college. Students could do research and then add stories to it," she said.

With the belief that many more women in history are waiting for their stories to be told, Afrah has made it possible for viewers to add what they know. People can submit stories about women or books they know about so the project keeps growing, like an encyclopedia.

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