Child trafficking: The sky is her canvas

  • Humaira Ansari, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jun 15, 2015 10:45 IST

She is faceless, anonymous and voiceless. And, as she looms over public spaces in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore from October, she will serve as a reminder of the 1.3 million girls who are trafficked and sold into prostitution in India each year.

Kolkata-based artist Leena Kejriwal, 48, has launched a crowdfunding campaign for a public art project she calls Missing.

If she can raise Rs 16 lakh by July 31 - she has so far raised Rs 5.66 lakh in 10 days - she will create 30 iron-and-fibreglass sculptures of girls, soaring 12 ft to 15 ft, and install them in at least 10 cities across the country. The plan, she says, is to use the sky as her canvas.

"The sky is universal. It's the ultimate public space," adds Kejriwal. "It belongs to a person driving a Mercedes, riding a scooter or a pedestrian walking down the street."

A version of the art project opened to positive reviews at Delhi's India Art Fair last year.

But, Kejriwal says, Missing is meant to touch people on the streets, beyond the art circles. "It is meant to be interactive and engaging."

So the pitch-black statues will stand in public parks, on promenades and atop iconic buildings, representing the black hole into which the children seem to disappear each year, and triggering conversations on human trafficking.

"I want a bus driver or a businessman to look at this piercing black figure and think twice before buying sex with a minor," she says.

Kejriwal has also roped in app developers to create an augmented reality Missing app. Download it on to a smart device and you can point it at the statue and see the sculpture turn animated, speak, and lead on to videos on the issue of trafficking.

"The idea is to use technology and animation to make a dark issue more accessible, without diluting the seriousness of the subject," Kejriwal says.

The artist is also collaborating with local artists in Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru to draw the black Missing figurines on walls in public places. Some are already visible in Kolkata and Bangalore.

"Many people don't know how human trafficking works. Having created some graffiti for this project, I can now relate to the victims and I hope viewers will too," says Shunnal Ligade, 30, a Bangalore-based graffiti artist who has worked with Leena to draw stencils of the Missing figurine in his city.

Kejriwal says she has wanted to highlight the plight of trafficked women since she first volunteered with NGO New Light in the red-light area in Kolkata's Kalighat, in 2002.

"Big social issues like human trafficking are often left to be dealt with by NGOs and the government. Artists are too myopic, addressing these issues in their own way," says Kejriwal. "The idea here is to bring all stakeholders, including the public, into the conversation."

To contribute, go to All donors will receive tokens of thanks ranging from keychains and T-shirts to 6-inch-high Missing figurines and limited-edition artworks.

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