A dog licks the head of a girl fallen on the street — but instead of her head, there's a bowl of sweets. A claw machine arcade game contains household appliances — but instead of a claw hand, there's a woman's hand. These are some of the artworks created by 24-year-old visual illustrator Akshita Chandra, as part of her project, Grimm Reality. The art series juxtaposes morals perpetuated by fairy tales with misogynistic statements that find their way into the news, including those made by political leaders. Through illustrations and GIFs, Akshita draws a parallel between the 'good girl' ideals championed in childhood stories and contemporary ideas of how women should be.
Brushing nostalgia aside, upon deeper analysis, some of the much-loved classic Grimm's Fairy Tales of our childhoods reveal problematic ideas and stereotypes, especially about women. "The notions as described in the fairy tales include how good girls are supposed to behave and if not, perhaps they deserve the trouble that befell them," says the Mumbai-based illustrator. For instance, talking to strangers or not listening to her mother (Little Red Riding Hood), a women’s place is in the kitchen (Snow White), coming home before the curfew time (Cinderella), not to mingle with boys (Rapunzel). Now, take statements like, "What is the need for roaming at night with men who are not relatives? This should be stopped," by Abu Azmi or "If you keep sweets on the streets, dogs will come and lick them," by ML Sharma (defence lawyer for the accused in the Nirbhaya case), and the connection becomes painfully obvious.
"I’m critiquing how these good-natured, cautionary advices have now become a convenient excuse for things that are going wrong. I'm questioning how a matter of safety, discipline or responsibility suddenly becomes about being moralistic and whether a person deserved to get into trouble for not following these ‘rules’," she says.
Grimm Reality is the outcome of Akshita's final thesis project in her undergrad degree, which required her to work with a piece of text of her choice and reinterpret it. While she had gotten her hands on the original uncensored version of Grimm fairy tales (dating back to 1812), she didn't initially intend to give it to an Indian context. "During my research, I realised that besides the gruesome bits that amused me, I had marked out what the ‘moral’ of the story was telling us as children and how women were portrayed in these tales. I questioned why the different ‘morals of the stories’ bothered me. There are also certain stereotypes of the male gender, but I decided to go with only women's aspect of it because one, I could relate to it more strongly, and two, fairytales have always been women-centric," she says.
View the complete series here.