Sisterhood of unboxed art: Bengaluru-based platform Sandbox Collective gears up on gender equality
A women-led collective in Bengaluru is paving the way for socially conscious theatre and art
An installation of steel utensils serves as a metaphor for women’s invisible labour.
A tarot-card set that tells stories about menstruation and childbirth. A video game that turns the ‘damsel in distress’ trope on its head. These are just some of the avant-garde projects by the Bengaluru-based multi-disciplinary arts platform, Sandbox Collective, which is celebrating its ninth anniversary this year. Since its inception, the collaborative space, headed by Nimi Ravindran and Shiva Pathak, has been a platform for radical projects which push the envelope.
“Our vision is to mobilise the transformative power of art to create a just and equal world,” says Ravindran. The collective gears up for the eighth edition of its annual flagship festival, Gender Bender, next month.
Gender equality and sexuality lie at the heart of all they do, be it curating, producing and touring performances and festivals or facilitating collaborations between artists and cultural spaces, both nationally and internationally. Sandbox Collective also works with individuals and organisations worldwide on artistic and research-oriented projects based in India.
A mutual love for storytelling brought journalist Ravindran and NGO worker Pathak together to form the collective. “During my graduation days in Delhi, I got to work with noted theatre director Anamika Haksar, which gave me a taste for theatre. When I moved to Bengaluru in 2002, the art scene here was open and generous. Before I knew it, I was part of it,” recalls 42-year-old Pathak. Ravindran, on the other hand, inherited her love for the dramatics from her family.
“My grandfather and mother were amazing storytellers. I naturally gravitated towards theatre in high school and college,” the 48-year-old reminisces. Then in 2012 Pathak was working on the Attakkalari festival and Ravindran was the reporter covering it. “We had endless discussions about the lack of infrastructural support for the arts and the need for creative organisations led by producers and women.
A year later she quit her job and my festival was over, too. We decided to take the plunge,” says Pathak.
In the early days, the Sandbox Collective would perform in a variety of spaces like homes, kitchens, terraces, offices and libraries. Gradually, as the size of their audience grew, they moved to city auditoriums.
The founders organised the Galata festival in Bengaluru in 2012, which later evolved into Sandbox Collective. “We named it ‘Sandbox’ because we wanted to create a space where we could be playful and childlike.
A sandbox allows that,” says Ravindran.
The annual Gender Bender, which was first hosted in 2015 in collaboration with the German cultural association Goethe-Institut, introduced artists who went on to become the voice for gender minorities. “We wished to set up an ecosystem for the arts that was lacking,” Ravindran says. For instance, Arunima Bose’s 2017 project ‘In Full Bloom: Playing With Pleasure’, centres around female masturbation, for which the artist created interactive mixed-media paintings depicting vaginas.
“In the first four years of the collective, we did 120 shows each year, along with curated festivals, workshops and other collaborative projects. We managed to do what we set out to do,” Ravindran adds.
This year, Gender Bender, a three-day event to be held from December 9, will see Bangladesh-based Mridul Kanti Goshami, who is creating a project on political violence, gender and history; Filipino drag artist Mrs Tan; Assamese photographer Pranami Rajbangshi; and Shehzor, a rapper from Hyderabad. The edition will feature podcasts, rap music, paintings, photography and interactive games.
In the pipeline is a digital platform, a new project based in Manipur and a plan to take Gender Bender international. “I feel proud that we kept on pushing ourselves. Even during challenging times, we never gave up,” Pathak concludes. ‘Bend it like Sandbox’ is their slogan.