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Femcyclopaedia is a campaign that uses art to illustrate revolutionary women who shaped humankind in the past, and women building a better future.
Histories remember mankind and all the men associated with. Good men, evil men, the greatest men – all find their way into history books that choose to tell and retell the stories of a select few and forces a suppression of the narratives of the others. Histories are his stories. But what about hers?
Women have been doing half the work in building this work ever since humans exist. Building families, traveling the earth, writing classics, working with innovation, performing and creating art, and yet, their stories are invisibilised, ignored or simply erased. But no more. The time has come for women to take charge of re-presenting their stories, commemorating the greatest women from our past and the women currently working for a great future.
Femcyclopaedia steps in as a modern curation of all such women. The artist and curator behind the campaign is Kirthi Jayakumar, founder of NGO Red Elephant Foundation. Her Foundation works to preserve and spread true stories of peacebuilding, harmony, equality, tolerance and courage. The Chennai-based activist and artist is a two-time recipient of the UN Online Volunteer of The Year, an author and writer for Women’s Web. Femcyclopaedia is a collection of her doodles of revolutionary women from all walks of life, from both the past and present.
Here are some of those inspiring women that have been preserved in these doodled portraits in Femcyclopaedia, finally making it into the pages of history and into the consciousness of a whole generation:
Amrita Sher-Gil (30 January 1913 – 5 December 1941) is referred to as “one of the greatest avant-garde women artists of the early 20th century” and a “pioneer” in modern Indian art. She grew up taking art lessons from the age of eight and gained recognition for her oil painting at nineteen. Sher-Gil travelled all over Europe, Middle-east and India to gain inspiration from foreign art styles. Today, her paintings are among the most expensive ones from Indian female painters.
Born on 3rd December 1982, Mithali Raj is the captain of Indian Women’s Cricket team and is often regarded as one of the greatest cricketers of all time. She is also the highest run-scorer in women’s cricket and is the first Indian captain to lead India to ICC World Cup twice. Raj is a Padma Shri and Arjuna Award-recipient.
Mahasweta Devi (14 January 1926 – 28 July 2016) was an eminent litterateur and social activist with about 100 novels and over 20 short stories’ collections to her name, primarily written in Bengali. She had been among the boldest female voices in Indian literature, writing about social disparities, gender inequality, women’s rights and casteism. The Bengali feminist also won the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Jnanpith, Padma Shri and Magsaysay Award.
C S Lakshmi (born 1944) is an author writing under the pseudonym Ambai. Her second short story collection in Tamil established her as a prominent short story writer, and her other works contain the elements of irony with an intricacy and feminism. She received the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award by Tamil Literary Garden (Canada) for her outstanding contribution to modern Tamil literature.
Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace (10th December 1815 – 27th November 1852) is remembered as the first computer programmer and the first person to recognise the potential of a computing machine beyond mere calculation. The mathematician created the first algorithm for Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical computer.
Aparna Vedapuri Singh is the founder and chief editor of Women’s Web, a media tech company and a leading content and creative resource for women in India. She transformed what started as a blog with four contributing authors into a flourishing online community with over 2000 authors and thousands of readers. Aparna first worked as marketing professional with a specialization in research and business development and is an alumna of Mount Carmel College, Bangalore.
Malvika Iyer is a social worker and PhD scholar who lost both her hands in a grenade explosion. An alumna of St Stephen’s College, Malvika is a motivational speaker and trainer, spreading awareness on disability. At the age of 13 after 18 months’ hospitalization, Malvika began to walk again with crutches and prosthetic hands. She secured a state rank in SSLC examination in Chennai, and was invited to Rashtrapati Bhavan by the then President of India, Late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
Aphra Behn (14 December 1640 –16 April 1689) was a British fiction writer, playwright, poet and translator. She was among the first English women to earn a living by her writings and wrote under the pastoral pseudonym Astrea. She is one of the most influential dramatist of late seventeenth century, at a time when the very act of a woman writing was considered scandalous.
Kalki Subramaniam is a transgender rights activist, actor, writer, artist and entrepreneur. She is the first transgender woman to do a lead role in a motion picture in India. She is also the founder of Sahodari Foundation, working for India’s transgender population. In 2017, Subramaniam opened Sahaj International School, Kochi, the first school for transgender students.
Hanan Daoud Khalil Ashrawi (born 8th October 1946) is a Palestinian legislator, scholar and activist. She is the first woman elected to the Palestinian National Council and is a member of the Third Way party of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Ashrawi earned a PhD in Medieval and Comparative Literature from University of Virginia and also serves on the Advisory Board of various local and international organizations.
Debra Ann Fischer is a professor of astronomy at Yale University researching detection and characterization of exoplanets. She was part of the team to discover the first known multiple-planet system. Fischer has co-authored over a hundred papers on dwarf stars and sub-stellar mass objects in the galactic neighborhood, including many on extrasolar planets.
Rohini Rau is a medical doctor, a TED Fellow and also the first woman sailor of India. She has been the national championship winner for eight consecutive years, has 14 national gold medals, 5 silver medals and 2 Asian gold medals. She has been India’s representative in various international events, including 8 world championships.
Born on 18th August 1959, Winona LaDuke is an American environmentalist, economist and writer. She is well known for her work on tribal land claims and their preservation, and sustainable development. In the 2016 presidential election, LaDuke received an electoral vote for Vice President of the United States, thus becoming the first Native American woman to receive it. She is also the Executive Director of Honor The Earth, a Native American environmental advocacy organization playing an active role in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
Dr Rashmi Tiwari is the founder and director of Aahan Tribal Foundation of India, which is working towards dismantling the machinery of trafficking. Her Foundation helps at-risk tribal girls and women become financially independent, self-reliant. Tiwari is a fellow of Vital Voices, USA and one of the emerging women business leaders under US State Department Leadership Programme. She has also been featured in Forbes magazine.
Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning and international public speaker on Muslim and Arab issues and global feminism. She is also a contributor to the New York Times opinion pages. Altahawy was described by the feminist website Jezebel as “the woman explaining Egypt to the West”. She has featured in Time magazine and is one of the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women.
Susan Brownell Anthony (15th February 1820- 13th March 1906) was an American social reformer and women’s rights activist. Anthony played a significant role in the women’s suffragette movement. Her trial after being arrested for voting led to the Anthony Amendment, which became the Nineteenth Amendment of US Constitution. She even became the first actual woman to be depicted on US coinage.
Leila Seth (20th October 1930 – 5th May 2017) was the first woman judge on the Delhi High Court. She was also the first Indian woman to become Chief Justice of a state High Court in August 1991. Leila Seth topped the London Bar Exam in 1958 wherein she was referred to as “Mother-in-Law” by a London newspaper.
Frida Kahlo de Rivera (6th July 1907 – 13th July 1954) was a Mexican painter of self-portraits. Her work had strong autobiographical elements and is now acclaimed internationally for reviving Mexican indigenous traditions and for depiction of female experience. Frida Kahlo was also a member of the Mexican Communist Party.
With inputs from Parul Sharma.
Images source: Femcyclopaedia