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Travelling gender bender of literature

The Sister Library, a travelling library which endeavours to highlight the contribution of women in literature, will be stopping over in Goa on September 13. NT BUZZ in conversation with the founder Aqui Thami

CHRISTINE| NT BUZZ

Q: What prompted the creation of the Sister library?

After years of running reading spaces in the city, I found more and more people did not want to read women. I looked at my own collection only to discover that I had very few works by women. I felt like that had to change and since then I started reading women exclusively.

This gradually led me to conceptualise the Sister Library because I couldn’t find any other space like this. It came from a yearning for books written by female authors, at the roadside bookwallahs to fancier bookshops in the city – a variety of books, not just that token bestseller.

Q: How easy was it to research and go about collecting these books, periodicals?

I don’t always find all the works that I look for. But having said that, it is not as hard to find works by women. One has to look for them but there are available.

Q: Is this favouritism towards male authors only an India specific problem? Which countries are better in terms of equal representation if at all?

So far in my experience, I find it a problem that is global.

Q: Is it only a library-centric problem? Or also an issue when it comes to finding these books online?

Even online it is not the best place to find works of women. It is obvious that we live in an unequal world. Production and dissemination of knowledge has been sexually skewed.

Q: This project hopes to re-examine the idea of what a library could be. Could you elaborate?

Sister Library is more an act of reclaiming libraries – celebrating works that don’t find mention in the mainstream media and re-examining the idea of what a library could be. The fact that this project is an interactive work that will be travelling in all its DIY spirit and glory is a step towards redefining what a library could be.

Q: You’ve mentioned previously that you will also be celebrating orality? How?

By creating a space for sharing orally. Decolonising knowledge systems paying more attention to oral narratives, I want to bring back stories from cultures that were systemically erased.

I also want to break the hegemony where knowledge production is limited to people from a certain background. With orality, people who have never learnt to write can still be storytellers.

Q: Historical factuality from a woman’s perspective is not considered important, you’ve mentioned earlier. Why is the case?

Because women’s experiences are shaped by gender and therefore their works carry that perspective which in so many ways is unrelatable and jarring to many people (even today) because we have internalised male perspectives to the extent of invalidating perspectives that challenge the norm.

Q: How has reading more works by women authors helped enrich your life?

It has changed the way I look at the world. It has also helped immensely with my practice.

I cannot stress enough on reading works of feminist foremothers, many of the challenges we face today have been critically examined and articulated. It allows us a space to ideate ways of change making.

Q: You’ve chosen 6 places to tour for your travelling library. How did you go about choosing these?

These cities have art spaces and artist-run centres that have been interacting with the community in varied ways. I have been meaning to collaborate with these spaces for some time now and Sister Library is just the perfect place for this.

Q: Where has the library been to so far and tell us about your observations.

So far I’ve travelled to Delhi and Pune. I loved every single day in both of the cities. It is great to see people interact with the works so deeply. Some come multiple times even to different venues. They make notes and their own lists of books they would like to buy.

Many a times people confide that they had never read something like that (pointing at a work), had ever been to a space like SL.

Q: Which are some of your favourite books by women authors?

There are so many! if I had to pick I’d go with The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For Women race and class; The Beauty Myth.

Q: What are some books which you feel would have clearly benefited with a women’s perspective?

It’s been so long I’ve read male authors but every non-fiction writing on women should have women’s perspective.

Q: You want to have a fixed library in the future. But given that interacting with people from different places always help in the evolution of the library, won’t this aspect suffer if it is stationary?

I do want a permanent space so as to become a lending library and have a space for everyone who would want to read women. I’m sure there will be people from many different places visiting the library the idea is that it becomes a space where people from all walks of life are welcomed. This doesn’t mean that the travelling will stop. I would still want to keep touring to many places especially small towns

(The Sister Library will be at The Village Studio, Parra from September 13 to 15)

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