Injecting Intersectionality into Art Practices
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This is 18 is a global photography project depicting experiences of girlhood, run by women who acts as photographers, editors and designers.

Injecting Intersectionality into Art Practices

by Devana Senanayake See Profile
Sydney NSW, Australia
10th Apr 2019
Injecting Intersectionality into Art Practices

Last October, The New York Times released This is 18: a collaborative, intersectional multimedia depiction of girlhood. Women ran the project entirely— they posed as subjects and acted as photographers, editors and designers.

Three photographers from Asia captured the nuances of gender dynamics in their continent and exposed the hidden narratives and cultural constraints which define girlhood. Each young photographer captured a girl from her culture.

“All through my childhood, girls had the option to say that I want to be a teacher or doctor but the moment I said I wanted to be a pilot or an artist it was seen with scrutiny, even in my childhood,” Tahia says of the double standards she faced as a young girl in Bangladesh.

Photo credit: Tahia Farhin Haque.
Photo credit: Tahia Farhin Haque.

Tahia noticed a clear double standard when it came to coming home on time and her grades. If girls underperformed at school, they had to consider marriage as an alternate option. Career options were also limited; they had to stick to occupations considered “respectable”.

Bangladesh’s Bureau of Statistics cited the labour force participation rate in 2015-2016 as 81.9% for males and 35.6% for females. Out of these females, 95.4% were in informal employment as labourers, self-employed persons, unpaid family labour roles and other hired labour roles.

Tahia photographed Sharma, a young girl married and currently living in her husband’s home.

Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage. In 2017, UNICEF counted 4,451,000 girls married before they reached the age of 18. Bangladesh’s Bureau of Statistics reflected that in 2011, 32.5% of girls aged 15 to 19 had been married.

“She wants to have a voice and the freedom to do what she wants. She accepts that she has to ask permission for every little thing in that house— but she still hopes for a better life in the future,” says Tahia of Sharma’s hopes.

Chinese photographer Yang photographed a young girl called Shenzhi in the middle of her beauty routine. In this particular photo, Shenzhi is breaching the realm of adulthood from childhood.

“I focused on Shenzhi applying her lipstick because I think the act of applying makeup represents how uncertain and curious an 18-year-old girl feels about her own image and identity,” says Yang.

Her dual realities as a “good [young] girl” and as a curious “young adult” coexist. Yang captures this perfectly in her portrait of Shenzhi scrolling through China’s version of Tinder, called Tantan.

Photo credit: Luxi Yang.
Photo credit: Luxi Yang.

“In China, you don’t see a lot of 18-year-olds in need for relationships or romance. They are single and not looking for anyone as instructed by their parents and teachers,” reflects Yang on the rarity of adolescent romance.

Romance in Western society and Chinese society are radically different. In China, serious relationships lead to marriage. The value of a mate is estimated through their financial stability as a result of their job, salary, savings and possession of valuable assets.

Government statistics in 2015 estimated 200 million single people in China. Research by the iResearch Consulting Group cited matchmaking as a US$1.6 billion industry. 24 million people are predicted to use online dating services like Tantan and Momo in 2022.

Yang reveals that Tantan is more of a game to Shenzhi than a place to find a serious relationship. Like the previous shot of Shenzhi and her beauty routine, this photograph is also of her at play, exploring her youth.

“Since [Shenzhi is] still relatively young, [she is] not in the mood for serious relationships. Instead, the thrill and fascination of fast swipes and picking out “superiors” is what makes the experience truly enjoyable for [her], just like playing a video game,” says Yang of the casual nature of online dating apps.

The complexity of adolescence in India is captured by Gupta through a practiced and comfortable outlet for her subject: Kathak, a classical dance from Northern India.

Kathak is one of the eight major forms of Indian classical dance. The dancer’s body and facial expressions are employed in re-telling stories from great epics and ancient mythology.

Photo credit: Shraddha Gupta.
Photo credit: Shraddha Gupta.

Women do have access to rights in India but their bodies, livelihoods and future are not prioritised.

In 2012, India ranked 98 out 128 on the Economist’s Women Economic Opportunity Index. Women’s social advancement is restricted by family expectations, cultural codes and limited institutional opportunities. Women’s voices and experiences are rarely articulated in their full complexity as a result.

Gupta captured Mahak in a long exposure shot in her room to expose her multilayered character through the arc of continued movement. The traditional movements of Kathak are used to tell her story and expose her hidden interiority.

“I told her to bring out all her feelings and make a combined long exposure of all those… she mentioned that she's dancing most of the time so all of her moods come out in danceform,” says Gupta.

Kim Anderson’s Hiding in Plain Sight runs at the Bowery Theatre until the 15th of December 2019. The exhibition focuses on the body, mental health and trauma.

Hiding in Plain Sight
Devana Senanayake

About Devana Senanayake

Devana Senanayake is currently based in Melbourne, Victoria. She is a multimedia journalist and radio producer. She focuses on race, gender, colonisation, diasporas and food. She has been featured on SBS, Meanjin, Why Not, Ascension Magazine and Writers Magazine.

More from Devana Senanayake


Sydney NSW, Australia
10th April 2019