Interview with Sister Library in Mumbai
Recently we heard news about Sister Library a new feminist library being set up in Mumbai, India.
To find out more Emma Thatcher spoke with the founder Aqui Thami about the Library’s history and aims.
What and where is the Library?
Sister is a library powered by female excellence. It is an evolving and generative artwork that engages in in-depth reflection on the visual and reading culture of our times.
We are based in Bandra West in Mumbai but we also travel to many many different places, last month we travelled to Auckland and Bangalore, this month we are travelling to Chennai.
How and when did the Library start?
I am a part of an artist collective called bombayunderground. One of our interventions is building temporary/semi-temporary reading spaces in different parts of the city and have people spend time with books and with each other.
Around six years back I realised that in these reading spaces people weren’t really picking up works of women, even when they’d ask for recommendations they were not happy if the books recommended was a work of a female author. This was really bothering me and I just had to see how much women I was reading. Sadly my bookshelf had less than twenty percent of works of women.
It was then I decided to read women exclusively. Over the years my collection grew and grew, soon friends started borrowing books from me and I started dreaming of a feminist library with works of women exclusively.
In 2018 I was given a fine art award and I used that money to travel with an installation of 100 works of women, zines, graphic novels, academic writing, nonfiction, movement-based writings and artist books to six major cities in India. In 2019 we started a permanent physical space in Mumbai with over 1000 books and zines.
What are the aims of the Library?
Our primary ambition is to bring together readers to celebrate women, explore the literary contribution, showcase the artistic quality and celebrate the contributions of women in the creative world as well as to foster interests and understanding of the accomplishments of women writers and artists. When doing this we also hope to change the way the world perceives women and spaces where knowledge is shared and produced.
What is feminism activism like in Mumbai/wider India
We live very caste segregated lives which has made it extremely difficult for women to unite in solidarity as a class and dismantle patriarchy. It is because we are not simply fighting patriarchy we are fighting brahaminical supremacy as well. Feminist discourse to a large extent is dominated by the caste Hindu, mainland residing, Hindi speaking, upper/middleclass women. In this one can imagine the route ‘activism’ has taken. We Indigenous, Dalit, Adivasi, Bahujan women are used as tokens or as talking points but never given centre stage. Much like African American women our elders too realised that the mainstream feminist movement was not so much for our interest.
Are there any books you would like to recommend to our readers?
The Blue Mimosa– Parijat
Land of the Roots– Jacinta Kerketta
Ants Among Elephants –An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India– Sujatha Gidla
A Gardener in the Wasteland – Aparajita Ninan & Srividya Natarajan
How can people support the Library?
By contributing to the crowdfunder! We need the money to move to a new address because our current landlord and the residents in the building are unhappy with us being a ‘feminist’ space and with many many women from different socioeconomic and caste backgrounds coming into the space.
Women all over the world and in India are also coming together to organise fundraisers to support the library. Shout out to Libraire Leuguelionne in Tiohtiá:ke (so called Montreal) and our friends in Berlin for doing the fundraisers last month. We will be happy to have women in the UK support us if possible by conducting similiar fundraisers too. (Editors note: A London fundraiser is now taking place on Thursday 5th December in the BGLT, SOAS University of London from 6.30pm.)
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you Feminist Library for being a great inspiration. It is because of you there are many libraries like sister library being born in places that need it the most.