The public art project Talk to Me received the International Award for Public Art on July 1, 2015 at the Cities in a Climate of Change: Public Art and Environmental and Social Ecologies conference in Auckland, New Zealand. The conference brings together artists, curators, urban planners, architects and museum directors from around the world to discuss art and its relationship to urban development.

Talk to Me

In December 2012, a 23-year-old female student was gang-raped in a moving bus in India’s capital city of New Delhi. She eventually died from her injuries. The event sparked international outrage and the Indian government introduced new anti-rape laws as a result. An Indian court sentenced the attackers to death.

While the event was singularly brutal, it was by no means an isolated incident. It is more accurately characterized as a symptom of pervasive and fiercely patriarchal social conditions to be found throughout the subcontinent.

Blank Noise is a collective that emerged in Bangalore in 2003 as an artistic and political response to the widespread harassment and rape of women. It was initiated by Jasmeen Patheja as a student graduation project, and over the years gained momentum to become a nationwide community arts movement.

Blank Noise initiates public conversations on issues of sexual violence in India. It has also realized numerous discrete interventions in several cities, relying on volunteers known as “action heroes.” According to the artist, action heroes are “a growing community of citizens, male and female” who donate time and energy to the collective’s cause.

One notable intervention was Talk to Me (2012), a project facilitated by Patheja with Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology students over one month in Bangalore. In Talk to Me, participants (Yelahanka Action Heroes) identified a site in the Yelahanka neighborhood in which they felt sexually threatened: a quarter-kilometer stretch of street without public lighting at night.

The action heroes set up tables and chairs signposted with “action guidelines” inviting the public to engage in conversation about “anything except sexual violence” as a four-hour-long public encounter. Tea and samosas were provided for the conversations. Participants were all gifted a flower at the end of each conversation.

By engaging in the conversation, the action heroes were given an opportunity to reframe their perceptions of vulnerability in relation to the site. Furthermore, the action functioned to temporarily reclaim the stretch of road for public good, brokering encounters between locals and strangers across the barriers of class, caste, religion, gender, and language. Talk to Me has subsequently been staged in other cities including New Delhi and Kolkata.

Blank Noise’s interventions, including but not limited to Talk to Me, are commendable for their engagement of the public in tackling a deeply entrenched social problem. The projects are highly accessible, the image of the action hero being one that lends itself well to positive identification, and the vocabulary of action being immediately comprehensible. TED and Ashoka Fellowships, as well as extensive coverage of the artist and Blank Noise online and in print media, attest to the collective’s success and continuing relevance to society.

What is the International Award for Public Art (IAPA)?

Around the planet, every day, public artists take their work to the people. Their projects appear in libraries and street festivals, back alleys and public plazas. Now, the best of this work is being recognized by an international award.

The International Award for Public Art (IAPA) was established in 2011 by Forecast Public Art (publisher of Public Art Review) and Shanghai University’s College of Fine Arts (publisher of Public Art) to honor excellence in the field of public art, increase visibility for public art internationally, and foster knowledge through research, discussion, and debate. At the same time, the international Institute for Public Art was established to further the process of research and to support efforts to host an award event and related forums. Six finalists and one winner of the first award were announced in April 2013 in Shanghai, China.

Starting in early 2014, Forecast Public Art again began collecting suggestions for hundreds of noteworthy recent public art projects from around the world to consider for the 2nd International Award for Public Art. With the help of 20 independent researchers, stories, images, and data were collected for 125 projects, all completed between 2007 and 2013. Then an international panel of jurors—Rhana Devenport (New Zealand), Wang Dawei (China), Ute Metea Bauer (Singapore), Jay Pather (South Africa), Bill Kelley, Jr. (U.S.A.), Chelsea Haines (U.S.A.), and Pooja Sood (India)—selected 32 semifinalists. Their next step was to select the seven finalists, one from each of the global regions researched.

All 32 of these projects are featured in an exhibition as part of an award ceremony and public art forum called Cities in a Climate of Change: Public Art and Environmental and Social Ecologies in Auckland, New Zealand in July 2015. At the event—hosted by the Elam School of Fine Arts of the National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries at the University of Auckland in partnership with Shandong University School of Fine Arts—the seven finalists are receiving special recognition.

More Information

Media contact: Amy Danielson
651-641-1128 ext. 103