Meet the founder of India’s first community-owned feminist library


Meet the founder of India’s first community-owned feminist library

Sister Library features over 600 books and zines in English, Hindi and Marathi

By ELLE team  January 13th, 2020

When was the last time you read a book written by a woman? Or better yet, when was the last time you read a book by a woman that’s not ‘chick-lit’? Chances are, it’s been a while. The Sister Library in Mumbai, India’s first community-owned library, is out to change that. After travelling to cities such as Kochi and Bengaluru, the project found a permanent space in Mumbai last year, thanks to a fund-raising campaign. We speak to the founder of Sister Library, artist and activist Aqui Thami, to get the low-down:

ELLE: What inspired you to set up the Sister Library? 

Aqui Thami: Through many reading interventions such as Bombay Zine Fest and Underground Bookhouse that we at the Bombay Underground collective executed in different parts of the city, I realised that people were not reading women. Works by women were looked at as a subcategory and was limited to that. This troubled me and I looked at my own collection, only to find it heavily disproportionate. My collection had less than 20% female authors and since that day, I made a very conscious decision to read women exclusively. This was five years ago. 

 

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As the collection grew, so did my desire to share these amazing works with people. Right at that time, I received the prestigious Inlaks Fine Art Award and I used that money to travel with the immersive installation to different cities. That was how it all began.

 Across the globe, we need a library like this, but since India is a caste-segregated society where knowledge production and sharing was and still is remains restricted, spaces like these become even more important 

ELLE: What was your curation process for the Sister Library like?

AT: The library features a little over 600 books, zines and independent publications from my personal collection. These works have shaped me and my world view.

Being in the space gives one an insight into my mind to understand my perspective and my life. It’s a space that incites different emotional reactions from different people. It is also a work which is constantly evolving and changing, just like my thoughts about a certain subject are.

 

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ELLE: Are the books and zines only in English?

AT: You’ll find Marathi zines such as Narimukti ani Pitrusatta, Hindi books such as Suno Meri Bahan Sun Nahi Sakti (the translated version of I Have a Sister-My Sister Is Deaf by Jeanne Whitehouse Peterson) and Shiris Ko Phool by Parijat.

ELLE: Tell us more about yourself.

AT: I am a first generation immigrant in the mainland of India. I left home in the mountains when I was 15 and have lived half of my life in the mainland. I have been honoured to nurture projects like Bombay underground, Dharavi Art Room and Bombay zine fest with my friend Himanshu S.