Jyotsna Siddharth

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My idea of success is not only vertical but horizontal and circular like roots of a tree branching out to create networks. I also wish to bring recognition to the "failures" and holding spaces of discomfort as an intrinsic part of my socio-cultural and political work. Through my practice, I wish to push boundaries of comfort, privileges, entitlements, critical thinking to strengthen rigour, nuances, compassion and resilience beyond the heteronormative understandings of status quo. I believe that people have multiple vulnerabilities stemming from multiple identities that they embody. The challenges that we are surmounted today are complex and multidimensional. We therefore, need our approaches to be multifaceted to inform newer thoughts, praxis, approaches and processes to address caste- gender inequalities. Everyday I work on my practice which involves linkages across development, social art, activism, theatre, environment, especially, in caste, gender, feminist and queer spaces. I work through multi-mediums to build a stronger movement with marginalised identities in India, South Asia and globally.

I identify as a Dalit queer woman born in Delhi and deeply informed by multitudinous of forms, material and language of art making. From writing to embodied work, I use storytelling, acting, performances, textual as well as sound to inform the change I wish to bring. In addition, I regularly mentor individuals and organizations to make spaces intersectional and inclusive. I am extremely keen therefore, on building community dialogue to support systems for making multiple medium work compassionate and collaborative. I was born to Dalit parents- Rajni Tilak was a prominent voice on Dalit Feminism and intersectionality in India and to a lawyer and communist father. From very early on, I was exposed to feminist and ambedkarite politics therefore, my praxis and work is informed by my caste, class, gender locations. 

Professionally, I am an India Lead for Gender at Work India. I co-founded SIVE (2017): a social art lab and transdisciplinary collective to build caste gender dialogue through creative and community pedagogies. I am also a founder of Project Anti Caste Love (2018)- a first of its kind platform that is building narrative and discours on intersections of love and relationships with caste, gender, religion and sexualities in India and South Asia and Dalit Feminism Archive (2019) that documents Dalit Feminism in India and South Asia. I have been fortunate to be on several panels and actively involved with protests and social movements, the projects I run amassed  organic humble following on instagram and have received recognition and featured in Times of India, The Hindu, Roundtable India, Savari, Feminism in India, Smashboard, Ashoka Literature Festival, Mid-Day, The Rights Collective UK, The Citizen, India Culture Lab, Khirkee Voice, News18, NDTV and more.

I am currently working on intersectionality, inclusivity and diversity work in theatre and cinema to bring in varied voices to better inform content, casting and representation within Bollywood industry with peers who are also actors and theatre directors. In addition, I am involved in devising a solo act, writing a book of essays and supporting Khuli Khidki- a community space set up and run by 26 artists in Delhi. In 2020, I was awarded 40 under 40 by Edexlive and a recepient of Chevening Scholarship (2014-15)

Janeu Prompts
For generations, we have been witness to sexual and caste-based violence targeted against people from Dalit communities and other marginalised groups. While the ideology that empowers such action and impunity, is one in which upper castes in India ritually, socially and economically marginalise lower castes and women, the violence of brahmanical patriarchy is almost always meted out on the body. Most often on bodies that are female, queer and trans, used as sites for asserting power, entitlement, violence, terror and control. The body of work on caste based and sexual violence mostly presents itself in form of writing or as conversations. For this work, I use my body in juxtaposition to the Janeu (a ‘sacred’ thread worn by upper caste Hindu men, that signals the pervasive practices of brahmanical patriarchy) to subvert and transform the body from a site of violation to a site of dissent, resistance and assertion. Janeu Prompts wishes to trigger collective memory, response and grief towards caste based and sexual violence in India. Janeu Prompts is an on- going performative work that aims to go beyond oral and written narratives, by centering itself on the language of body, psyche, emotions and feelings that respond to ongoing cases of violence against marginalised communities in India. Each work focuses on one incident of caste based and/or sexual violence. The attached images are a part of this performative series created with a support of Reframe Grants, Genderalities 2.0 on following four incidents:  The lynching of 15-year-old Junaid Khan aboard a train, June 2017.  The brutal rape and murder of transgender activist, Sweet Maria, November 2012.  The rape and hanging of two minor cousin sisters in Badaun, May 2014.  The public flogging of seven members of a Dalit family under the pretext of cow protection in Una, July 2016.
Work Credit: 
Conceptualised, Devised and Performed | Jyotsna Siddharth Shot and Edited by | Mir Ijlal Shaani
Body as a Caste Field
South Asian, particularly Indian society is laid on the foundation of caste system1 For several decades, people from my community were not allowed to access public spaces. If they did however cross neighbourhoods, villages or spaces of people from higher caste, they were subjected to violence, humiliation and public prosecution. On many occasion, they were even asked to put their slippers on their head or travel only at certain times so that their shadows don’t “pollute” people from higher caste. Body as a caste field is an exploratory performative work that showcases a queer, marginalised, non-dominant caste (dalit) body’s socio-political, geographical location and its navigations within the systemic oppression in South Asia and globally. In this performance, I work with my body as the tool to create a web with Janeu (a ‘sacred’ thread worn by upper caste Hindu men, that signals the pervasive practices of brahmanical patriarchy) and other threads and wire. This web is a symbolic, invisible caste lines that creates divisions and segregation in South Asian society. In the web, I play, dominate, subvert, disrupt, submit and pause to engage with the dark space within one’s body to tap into the embodied material of caste, intergenerational load of pain and collective trauma. This performance explores the duality of body navigating caste field tapping into the history of systemic oppression to achieve intimacy, power over one’s own body, ideas and life choices.
Work Credit: 
Concept, Devised and Performed | Jyotsna Siddharth
Burn All the Books that Call You the Unknown
In 2022, Burn all the books was a project conceptualised by artist and curator- Vidisha Fadescha which was showcased as part of the exhibition in Sydney, Australia. The project is “Using theatrics of a dancefloor, Vidisha emphasizes that what appears as collectively in the moment, emerges through how we embody our histories, violence, vulnerabilities and aspirations, into our bodies and movements. From an archive of field recordings built over 8 years, from various waters-forests-lands in India, they have also produced a sound piece for the installation. The exhibition Burn All The Books That Call You The Unknown makes space for plurality of identities and enacts a moment for self-representation and personal agency. Thinking of what are those places that we call safe, or home, and how it is an experience made of contexts that are meaningful and origins that are authentic that change how you feel in a space. Trying to work towards an experience of this kind. Fadescha, installs something that reminds you of their home and how their home becomes a welcoming art and social space (Party Office) back in Delhi. It is also people who they resonate with, who have been invited to participate in different ways in the exhibition.” As part of this work, my performance of situating my body interacting with the application of vermillion and janeu highlights as a symbolism of blood- shedding violence intertwined with resistance and courage.
Work Credit: 
Project Conceptualised | Vidisha Fadescha (Artist and Curator) Devised and Performed | Jyotsna Siddharth

Jyotsna Siddharth (She/They) is an actor, self-taught artist, performer and writer. Jyotsna’s practice spreads across institutional building, intersectionality, arts, activism, theatre and development. As an artist and actor, they work closely with several social art spaces and collectives to push boundaries of individual and societal comforts and criticality, to deepen nuances, compassion and empathy.
Jyotsna has co-founded social art project- Sive (2017), Founded Project Anti Caste Love (2018), Dalit Feminism Archive (2019) and co- organized the first Indian adaptation of ‘A Rapist in Your Way’- the Chilean feminist collective Las Tesis in 2019, Delhi. They have a master’s in Development Studies from TISS Mumbai and Social Anthropology from School of Oriental and African Studies, London and a recipient of Chevening Scholarship, British High Commission (2014). In 2020, Jyotsna was featured as 40 under 40 by Edex and New Indian Express and advisory board of Feminism in India, The Rights Collective UK, Giving Tuesdays India and CPA Project.

Jyotsna’s work has featured in Times of India, The Hindu, Roundtable India, Savari, Feminism in India, Smashboard, Ashoka Literature Festival, Vogue India, Mid- Day, The Rights Collective UK, Feminism in India, The Swaddle, The Citizen, DHRDNet, UN Women Asia and Pacific, Manchester University Press, India Culture Lab, Grazia India, Party Office, Documenta Fifteen, News18, Khirkee Voice, Khoj and more. Jyotsna is currently working on a play- Clay and co strengthening inclusivity and diversity dialogue with an informal collective of theatre directors and actors in India.

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