Visual Project Management | Grant Work: Where Women Rule - Widows of Varanasi
Where Women Rule is a successfully executed fundraising initiative to begin documenting the world's fascinating all-female societies, in the widow communities of Varanasi, India -- through the support of a 2018 Getty Images/Panasonic Lumix grant, the 2019 Leica Camera USA Women Foto Project Award, and a 2021 National Geographic Society grant. Some of the multimedia works were also exhibited at Photoville 2020 in Brooklyn, New York.
- Where Women Rule
Where do women rule and where are they a commodity? How do women develop in a near-absence of men or patriarchy? My project aims to be a visual and sociological look at what happens when cultural norms of gender are amended or removed — via the all-female societies across the world, where women gather for shelter or in matriarchy — leading us to new notions of femininity and masculinity, human bonds, family and the fluid boundaries of identity.
Not in recent history have communities where women seek shelter, independence or support, been more relevant to our cultural climate and growth. Discarding toxic, inflexible gender roles is an evergreen and pressing idea, as it is what the modern family unit aims to look like, increasingly across the world.
I aim to discover the intersect of these women’s stories as individuals and as a collective amidst arresting visual landscapes, with special attention to perseverance in the face of rejection and confidence in shedding convention. My intent for this project's findings is that they serve as an immersive experience not just for consumers of visual culture, but also as a research and educational tool — hopefully starting with the youngest minds, where developing the concept of equality matters most. Ultimately, I'd like to build connections between humans that overcome the limiting societal constructs of gender and geography.
- Widows of Varanasi
(Supported by a 2018 Getty Images/Panasonic Lumix grant)
Thousands of widows flock to Varanasi, a holy city on the crescent-shaped bank of India's Ganges River, often in escape of family that has become abusive or neglectful after the loss of their husbands. While widows' property rights and access to resources are protected by law, enduring superstitions that paint them as unlucky and unworthy can override. There are the widows who remain unaware of their rights, those who subordinate themselves to custom to keep familial or social peace, and the ones who have no other option. And so, women of all ages gather in Varanasi ashrams, trailing saris in all white, the color meant to strip them of their femininity.
Yet, more widows have started to defy society's strong identity ties to marriage and elect to stay with their families instead of flee, and demand access to what's theirs. Some who come to Varanasi, redefine how their individuality fits in with spiritual tradition, by allowing themselves to celebrate holidays, and wear color — despite the expectation of white, the hue of death and asexuality. Others say they seek out the ashrams for spiritual dedication, instead of as a last resort. While isolation and uncertainty accompanies their journeys, at least in the ashrams they find shelter, a daily meal, and a community of women of the same circumstance — in other words, a second home.