Murder is a fundamentally morbid crime – an act of taking away what nature has decided to imbue in man – the gift of life. Rape is a crime even more sinister for it seeks to destroy those sacred instruments which can impart life in the first-place. This vile act has spread its tentacles throughout a whole nation – its presence is so palpable that it may one day become an immortal relic of Indian culture. While an entire country reels in agony; lying in the wake of this ever-growing act of sexual torture, perhaps the time has come to don a new vision which aims to decimate the foundation, rather than the actual structure of this criminality.
Maybe this is what the photographer – Raj Shetye – was attempting to do in his highly controversial “glamorous rape” photo-shoot which depicted Indian models rather aesthetically participating in the act of forced sexual transgression. Without a doubt, the fashion display was abundantly offensive and highly insensitive, for it put the plastic facade of fashion into a boiling issue that has energized a whole country’s people into action. But after a moment’s worth of thought, it may also be indicative of combating the criminal pestilence with a new, more tactical strategy.
The act of rape, in itself alone, is an act of injustice. Forced sexual contact is illegitimate – and we must seek to eliminate it from our society not only because it causes pain and suffering, but because it also degrades the morality of our species as a whole. No other creature in the animal kingdom is known to enforce sexual contact – nature has programmed reproductive harmony in all living things. What is also worth making note of, is that we must not adjudge the severity of a rape based on different situations. A rape is a rape regardless of who practices it and who it is practiced on. This very simple, but extremely important idea, is captured firmly in Shetye’s photo-shoot. By depicting good-looking and visually well-cultured men taking advantage of a beautiful and fashionable woman, Shetye (whether intentionally or unintentionally) communicates the purity of the crime that any act of rape is weaved off. The message, therefore, is strong and unadulterated. Rape doesn’t distinguish its victims. It can happen anywhere from the posh insides of lush tall-rises in the city to an isolated hut in the middle of a small village. That does not by any means change the severity of the crime.
His photo-shoot also begs the question: Why did it have to take the flaying of one young woman in Delhi to electrify the world’s largest democracy against such an inhumane crime? There have been tens of lakhs of rape before Nirbhaya, yet Shetye’s photo-shoot received more attention than most of them. In a way, Shetye’s work displays the extent of Indian society that rape has soaked into. Shetye successfully depicts rape in its purest form – what he doesn’t do is portray the actions being taken to destroy this central identity of the crime. Shetye’s work, in effect, is diminished into an inciting, glamorous and ethically flawed piece of art.
Undoubtedly, the photographer appears to have done a measly job of what could have otherwise been a very strong artistic piece emanating a profound message. If the idea was to capture the brutality of sexual domination in a frame of fashion display, Raj could have worked with a lot more creativity. He could have focused on representing the new-generation battle against the crime by photographing the woman fight-back against her offenders. He could have depicted fellow samaritans lend a helping hand to the woman by fending off the attackers. He could have even portrayed the transgressors hanging, as an ode to justice. All these photographs would be indicative of India’s struggle against this crime. Just recently, president Pranab Mukherjee rejected the plea of man who raped a three year old, condemning him to death by hanging. In the past few days, the cabinet approved a bill that strips 16-18 year kid of juvenile rights if they have committed a “heinous” crime such as rape.
Shetye’s work, however, was very different. It was outrageous, yes. But not only because he tried to use fashion to create awareness of rape – and failed at it. Instead he was unsuccessful because has decided to ignore the battle that the Indians are fighting against rape. Without this complete picture, Shetye’s work appears to be nothing more than a commercial stunt. A pornographic artifact perhaps, but far from celluloid legend.
Art has historically been an instrumental medium to indoctrinate and monitor social behaviour amongst the masses. Shetye’s deserves some credit for trying to use fashion and photography to spread awareness, but he must also be crucified for the incomplete and commercial nature of his work. Though Shetye has failed to create the sort of awareness he wished to, he has created a fiery pit of opinion, uproar, and anger. Without a doubt, a much more cohesive, literary, and layered work of fashion and photography will be welded in the pit which will do India’s rape situation much more justice.
See the rest of the images here.
Image Credit: © Raj Shetye/via behance.net /Fair Use law