In a small section of a major art gallery in New Delhi, a screen shows Lakshmi, an acid-attack survivor, detailing the cruel ordeal she faced in 2005 and her subsequent attempts at closing up with 'ghoonghats' (veils) and burqas. Playing alongside is a hard-hitting digital comic on the stories of tens of resilient survivors, joining forces to break out of mental enclosures built by them.
'Priya's Mirror,' the second volume of the 2014-launched female superhero comic 'Priya's Shakti,' focusses on the internal struggles and societal rejection of acid-attack victims.
It is currently on view at the Kaleidoscope Digital Art gallery at the Triveni Kala Sangam here - its first exhibition in Delhi. Painted wall murals of Priya sitting on her tiger, Sahas, however, could be found in Shahpur Jat and earlier, Rajiv Chowk here.
The first volume, which shows a rape survivor Priya looking within to find courage, saw the light after the horrific 2012 Nirbhaya gang-rape here.
It has been created by documentary filmmaker and writer Paromita Vohra; filmmaker and creator of the series 'The Karma Killings' Ram Devineni; actor Shubhra Prakash; and graphic novelist and digital creator Dan Goldman.
In the second volume of the widely-read comic, Priya motivates women who survived acid attacks but still live with disfigured faces and bodies. The 40-page comic book shows Priya entering the aloof palace of demon Ahankar, who manages a ‘sanctuary' of acid-attack victims there.
While he may seem like a benevolent man, Ahankar feeds them thoughts of melancholy: "No one can love you. Those who say that are fooling you."; "The outside world has no place for people like you".
As a viewer looking at the comic and the real-life interview clippings of survivors - Lakshmi and Sonia - one may find a pattern the comic has picked from real life: Internalising blame by victims of violence.
"The psychological impact (of the acid attack) is important to me, as a curator. Survivors tend to build this self-inflicted enclosure, symbolised by demon-king Ahankar, around themselves, that I feel is the hardest and most painful to come out of.
"Lakshmi, who once used to wear burqa, now says 'I love my face'. We look in our mirrors, and crib about acne and eyebags, but these survivors are the real role models," the show's curator Mukta Ahluwalia told IANS.
The comic's co-creator, Ram Devineni said the comic's main motive was to create empathy for survivors and challenge patriarchal views.
"Talking with several rape survivors, I realized how difficult it was for them to seek justice and how much their lives were constantly under threat after they reported the crime. Their family, local community, and even the police discouraged them from pursuing criminal action against their attackers. The burden of shame was placed on the victim and not the perpetrators. This created a level of impunity among certain men to commit more rapes.
"...Many of the acid attack survivors are hidden away or neglected by society. Often they faced the same cultural stigma that rape survivors face, but their scars are more visible," the US-based filmmaker told IANS in an email.
'Priya's Mirror' has characters inspired from real-life survivors, an exercise Devineni said was important as it enabled them to tell their own stories.
"Our approach addressed a core issue that many survivors faced - they wanted to be advocates and talk about their lives. We paid particular attention to every character in the comic book, and made sure they accurately represented the real survivors," he explained.
Back in the story, the survivors, encouraged by Priya, see themselves in a "Mirror of Love", that reflected them as successful lawyers, artists and more - what they were always destined to be. With a fresh outlook towards life, the group bravely steps out of the palace, and consequently out of fear of social ridicule and rejection.
The expo's key aspect is augmented reality (AR), a technology India is still opening up to. The comic book pages pop out in special animation when a free app scans them, enriching the experience of viewing, learning and empathising.
'Priya's Mirror,' which premiered globally in New York Film Festival, and in India in the Mumbai ComicCon in 2016, is downloadable (for free) in five languages. The exhibition is open till February 9.