The silence from performance and the enforced slowdown of our lives due to the pandemic caused a peculiar churning in the performing arts sector. The pandemic brought out a new phenomenon of exploring digital platforms. Artists continued to express their creative side and created online communities and stages. Disparate digital skills and capacity made the field unexplored, unequal and unpredictable. The unpredictability brought on by the rigors of the art scene in India manifested into copyright issues and plagiarism, mental health, drug abuse and until very recently, owing to the #metoo movement, the issue of Sexual Harassment in the arts came to the forefront. What was first called out in Chennai in 2018 (the Madras Music Academy debarred seven Carnatic musicians, named in various #MeToo accounts, from performing at its Margazhi music festival in 2018), it finally caught up with the rest of India, with the latest coming out in December 2020 (the allegation against a renowned pakhawaj player).
As the stakeholders in the performing arts sector watched it all unfold, the deep inequity in the performing arts field was revealed. It became clear that the larger picture of Arts and the Law needed to be addressed. A five-part series on “Arts and the Law: What they don’t teach you in Arts School” was conceived and rolled out as online audiovisual documentation of expert conversations co-produced by Kri Foundation and the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi (2020, Language English) followed by ShilpaKala Ebam Ain (2021, Language Bengali) addressing the specific needs felt by the Arts Community of Bengal.
Armed with the valuable and enriching content that was generated from these various conversations and exchanges, Artsforward and Sruti Performing Troupe have now joined hands with Kri Foundation and other partners to create an online resource centre called Unmute – A Performer’s Guide to Speaking Up – Laws, Rights, Resources (www.unmute.help).
Spearheaded by Delhi-based Arts Scholar Dr Arshiya Sethi, performer-arts manager Paramita Saha, dancer-lawyer Somabha Bandopadhyay as founding members; the website will address the issues of Rights and Responsibilities of Artists and Arts leaders in India. The website www.unmute.help will go live on Thursday, 12th of August, 2021.
The website will serve twin purposes. First, it will be a resource centre for information, reference material, guides to laws, rules and regulations, compelling research content, audiovisual documentation of expert conversations specific to the needs of the field of Arts in India. Second, it will act as an independent advisory platform headed by a panel of representatives from both artistic and legal backgrounds (Prof Dr. Shameek Sen, Prof. Dr Kavita Singh, both professors at WBNUJS, organizational ethical practice advisor Asiya Shervani, Sociologist and Activist Urmi Basu, Samuho (a collective of women and non-binary performers) who will serve as a soundboard and offer legal and organisational guidance. The website will act as a bridge for young artists of India seeking legal advice or help in the domain of Performance arts.
The founding members say, ‘The initiative aims to build a space of networking for performing arts organizations willing to create new and equitable workplace ethics by offering partner networks to be part of expert training sessions, offer handbooks and other POP material to address sexual harassment in institutions and other such issues that are not readily spoken about. For artists, it aims to act as a forum to initiate discussions among fellow concerned artists.’
This initiative has grown in the spirit of togetherness as a caring and sharing process by a large group of partner organizations. The website belongs to the wcommunity as a resource centre for the Rights
and Responsibilities of Artists and Arts leaders. The immediate focus for Team Unmute is the issue of abuse of power, and sexual harassment as this issue needs to come into the mainstream of art discourses. So, while the website is an idea whose time has come, sexual harassment is an issue that can wait no longer.