Lipstick Under My Burkha: When Real Women Take Over Indian Screens

by Anubha Yadav, University of Delhi

“We see many films on male bonding, but hardly any on female bonding,” award-winning Indian filmmaker Aparna Sen told Indian television news channel NDTV at Cannes, just after the screening of her latest film, Sonata.

Sonata, which has already been released in India, explores the lives of three middle-aged women and their friendships, a rare narrative in Indian cinema.

Sen’s statement comes a few weeks after another film on women bonding, Lipstick Under My Burkha, by the young director Alankrita Shrivastava, got the green light for release after a struggle with India’s film censors, owing to its feminist positioning and “risque” storyline.

Official trailer of Lipstick Under My Burkha by Alankrita Shrivastava.

Shrivastava’s film has already featured in festivals in Canada, France, UK and Japan, and won several awards. It was also screened at the Golden Globes.

But in its “motherland”, the release date is yet to be announced.

Censored for being “lady-oriented”

The film has been stalled as the Central Board of Film Certification, (CBFC) refused to give it clearance. On February 23, the government institution stated:

“The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contanious [sic] sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society.”

Lipstick Under My Burkha explores the life of four Indian women living in small-town India: a burkha-clad college girl, a young beautician, a mother of three and an ageing widow. The film follows these women as they recognise their desires and negotiate their sexuality within the claustrophobia of controlling familial relationships and invasive small-town life.

The stories of the four women are interspersed with each other’s as they carve out small windows of freedom for themselves within which they discover their “other” selves.

According to Indian censors, female bonding and feminism are wrong. Prakash Jha Productions

The arguments issued by CBFC foreground deeper issues. They exhibit the organisation’s complete inability to understand a film that questions the deeply patriarchal nature of storytelling in Indian cinema.

No real women

For many decades now, commercial cinema has robbed Indian film audiences of countless women’s stories. Over the years, real women characters have existed mainly in non-commercial, art-house films with limited funding and audiences. These include titles such as Ankur(1974), directed by Shyam Benegal, Arth (1982) by Mahesh Bhatt, Mirch Masala by Ketan Mehta (1987), Fire by Deepa Mehta (1996), and Astitva by Mahesh Manjrekar (2000).

Like most cinematic cultures including mainstream Hollywood, Indian cinema, and especially Hindi films – largely produced from Mumbai – discriminate against women in front and behind the camera. So much so that misogyny is routinised and normalised.

The film censor board regularly clears sexist and misogynistic films such as Indra Kumar’s Masti series. The poster of 2016 release in the series, Great Grand Masti, is itself evidence of how they “use” women in the filmic text. The film includes vulgar and sexist comments, ageism, rape jokes and it objectifies women throughout.

Portrayal of women in such films as Great Grand Masti does not bother India’s film censors. The Indian Express

In fact, the ease with which these films get censor clearance shows the obtuse and inverted definitions the board uses to determine what is objectionable.

Item numbers

Real women have been rendered invisible at the cost of their bodies. The omniscient presence of a certain kind of song (to which women actors dance), often called “item number”, is the most obvious sign of their objectification.

The “item number” exists largely to titillate audiences. It can be dropped anywhere in the film with no narrative justification. A scantily-clad woman appears, dances to a cheesy song, often with double meaning, and is never seen again.

It is, at best, product placement to get the cash registers flowing at the box office. And the product, in this case, is the female body. Rarely does the censor board touch these songs.

In a typical ‘item number’ women are desirable objects constantly tempting men.

In this environment, Lipstick Under My Burkha not only challenges the status quo within the Indian film culture but also questions CBFC definitions of “good” and “watchable”.

Changing Indian cinema

Several factors have, however, been changing trends in Indian cinema for over a decade now. Demographics show an increasing number of women with buying power in urban India and they have different expectations of cultural representation.

New business models, such as the entry of corporations into the film business, are appearing. Previously, production was dominated by families or independent producers.

Small cinema halls can also now showcase independent films as well as a big commercial movies. And young filmmakers such as Shrivastava are challenging older ways of storytelling.

A few Indian films have recently portrayed strong women as protagonists. We can think of No One Killed Jessica (2011), Kahaani (2011), Queen (2013), Mary Kom (2014), Bobby Jasoos (2014), Piku (2015) and Neerja (2016).

Mary Kom (left) and actress Priyanka Chopra at the opening release of a film based on the champion’s life in 2014. Bollywood Hungama/Wikimedia, CC BY-ND

The fact that top women stars choose to play lead roles in these films demonstrates the need for such narratives in popular culture.

The steady rise of films such as Angry Indian Goddesses (2015) by Pan Nalin, Parched by Leena Yadav (2016), Pink (2016) by Aniruddha Roy Chowdury and Sen’s recent Sonata (2017) is palpable.

These films explore the complexity of women’s lives, their fears and yearning through the idiom of friendship and camaraderie. Their portrayal of “sisterhood” is somewhat akin to the male-buddy genre, which has a number of cult classics, such as Dil Chahta Hai, Three Idiots and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.

Three idiots was an international ‘bromance’ success.

It is noteworthy that many of these “sisterhood” films have been directed by women and are sidestepping the old ways of seeing women and men – be it through the use of camera or the way they use song and dance.

Srivastava’s film turns the audience’s gaze to a female point of view. BBC

They are questioning traditional ideas to invent a new women-friendly gaze, as opposed to the male gaze. First identified by the feminist theorist Laura Mulvey, the male gaze is being wholeheartedly inverted and rejected in these films.

Sen’s Sonata and Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under my Burkha may lead to a sustained change in mainstream Indian cinema so women’s stories don’t get labelled and pushed to the limited category of “Women’s cinema”. Like all films, women’s stories also need to be tested against the same yardstick of good cinema or bad.

This genre would surely also gain colour and strength from its diversity. Women’s stories can surely get more fun, adventurous and innovative as they show the various sides of their complex existence.

The ConversationIt’s time India’s censors enable this change by modernising, so it can keep up with the evolving needs of audiences and the film community, and not make themselves completely redundant.

Anubha Yadav, Assistant Professor/Film & Broadcast Studies, University of Delhi

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Dreamer, Jane Goodall

by Erlangga Utama

[Jakarta, LTTW] The presence of animals and plants is unquestionably essential for the continuation of life as we know it. Imagine if lions were wiped out from African savannah; it would adversely impact the ecosystem of the continent. Many animals have gone extinct, and many of them are still waiting for their impending doom. A great number of species are currently in the brink of extinction, such as horned guan in Mexico, sea lions, Sumatran tigers, Sumatran orangutans, mountain gorillas, and many more.

This extinction is not a natural event; it is the result of human mistakes, negligence, and cruelty. Humans are just too greedy – the only thing that matters to them is making profit without thinking about the consequences. They should realize that profit is not only about money, but there is also humanity aspect to it. Jane Goodall is one of the very few who apply the concept of ‘profit for humanity’ [Sacred Bridge Foundation’s term]. That’s why, Listen to the World thinks that it is important for us to get to know more about Jane Goodall.

With the appearance of “Jane” in Hollywood recently a film documenting her life, is very enlightening. This documentary was directed by Brett Morgan, an American director known for his acclaimed works such as Cobain: Mountain of Heck, Chicago 10, to name a few.

Perhaps, before the documentary was released, only NatGeo channel avid viewers and academics that are familiar with her name and reputation. This documentary has shed light on her, making her more popular in public sphere. The documentary was released just in time when animal extinction issue has become the center of attention.

Dreams are an important part in children’s growth, echoing Albert Einstein’s famous quote ”imagination is more important than knowledge.” This word of wisdom is corresponding to Goodall’s life, which dream was built on his childhood dream. This dream would materialize within her and lead her to study about animals and environment. Her love for animals has made her an authority on zoology and ethology.

At the age 27, Goodall inadvertently began to study the life of apes when she was working as an assistant to Louis Leakey, an anthropologist. At that time, Goodall was studying the so-called ‘human ancestors’. Goodall recalled the time of her early career, when she was still lacking in experience and had to face a lot of criticism. But, thanks to Leakey, who believed in her wholeheartedly, she could continue her research and stayed on track.

Goodall grew up in the time of Counter Culture Movement in the US back in the 60s, where gender equality issue began to take center stage. Goodall has shown the world of science that women could take part just like men with her brevity for conducting research in Tanzania. Not only that, Goodall made very strong criticism toward animal exploitation in research, which eventually changed the way scientists treat lab animals. Her passion for animals and nature has forced African people and government to adopt a nature-friendly tourism to save animals from extinction and curb the destruction of their habitat due to humans’ activities. Her thoughts and actions have brought about a new set of ethics in the world of science.

Goodall’s field works have shed lights on the life of primates; among others are the social hierarchy in a chimpanzee colony and a ground breaking method of friend-making between human and chimpanzee, known as the “Banana Club.” She also gained a new perspective based on her experience living with chimpanzees that not only are they herbivores, they are also carnivores and sometimes cannibals. Moreover, she discovered that chimps are able to build hunting tools, just like humans.

Jane does not only care about nature and animals; she also cares about humans’ life and well-being. In the International Day of Peace, Jane Goodall (who was appointed UN Messenger of Peace) spoke about the impact of Syrian war to humanity, which has created refugees. Refugees are people who are fear for their life and safety. And just like humans, animals are living things, too, equipped with emotions and a sense of fear.

“Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved. Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference. The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. The greatest danger to our future is apathy. Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right. Lasting change is a series of compromises. And compromise is all right, as long your values don’t change. I think the best evenings are when we have messages, things that make us think, but we can also laugh and enjoy each other’s company.”

It’s been decades since Jane Goodall decided to live with what she believes in, and she is not slowing down despite her age. She keeps on campaigning for peace and ethics for a better world.

Sacred Bridge Foundation believes that plants, animals, and humans are part of nature, in which they live in harmony. But humans have done nature a great wrong; how much longer mankind can survive? Jane Goodall is another proof that it is the minority that can make a change.

Translated by Riri Rafiani



teamLab, 21st Century “Cave Painters”

[Jakarta, LTTW] There’s an online discussion going on at Listen to the World about environmental deterioration caused by human behavior and how we should respond. If we look upon what we’ve been through so far, we can conclude that humans have a problem living as a part of nature.

While many of us still practice a relationship in which nature and human are going in separate ways, in Japan there’s a digital art group who acts otherwise.

teamLab and Digital Art

teamLab consists of interdisciplinary group of ultra-technologists ranging from artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians to architects seeking to navigate the confluence of art, science, technology, design, and the natural world.

According to its official website, “teamLab believes that the digital domain can expand the capacities of art, and that digital art can create new relationships between people.” They stated that digital art provides human with a greater degree of autonomy within space – to use and manipulate it much more freely. Moreover, in an interaction with the environment within space, viewers can instigate perpetual change in an artwork through interactive relationship between them and the artwork.

In our view, teamLab isn’t just trying to push the boundaries of digital art, but also re-connecting relationship between human, environment (natural world, urban, etc.), and technology.

In one of many teamLab’s interactive digital installations, Flowers and People, Cannot be Controlled but Live Together, 2014 highlights on how human can never be able to control nature, but can live together or cohabitating in Sacred Bridge foundation’s term.

“The boundary between the work of nature and the work of humans is extremely vague. Rather than nature and humans being in conflict, a healthy ecosystem is an ecosystem that includes people. Unlike people of today, people in the past lived on the assumptions that humans cannot grasp nature in its entirety, and that it is not possible to control nature. These people, who lived for a long time more closely aligned to the rules of nature, perhaps created this comfortable natural environment.”

And in Digitized Nature, Digitized City (teamLab’s art project) they stated that since digital technologies are non-material objects, it has no physical impact. Thus, nature can be turned into art without harming them, and cities can be turned into art without changing anything physical – maintaining the infrastructure of the city.

Drawing on the Water Surface Created by the Dance of Koi and Boats (2015), one of the featured works of Digitized Nature, Digitized City

“No longer does art need to be exhibited in nature; rather nature itself becomes art. Similarly art need not be exhibited in the city, but parts of the city itself can become art. We can then expand this concept, with an entire city becoming a huge artistic space without disruption to its normal functions.”

Tokushima Digitized City Art Nights – Luminous Forest and River (2016), one of the feature works of Digitized Nature, Digitized City

To us, this digital art is 21st century’s “cave painting” showing that human and nature is one using natural park and urban settings as the venues.

Real Vs “Digitized” Nature

teamLab’s approach is vital in promoting harmonious living between human and nature, especially in a time when we live so distant from nature. We should keep in mind, however, our relationship with nature must be physical and non-physical, not just virtual.

It’s noteworthy that while our awe toward all things digital is increasing, our concern and sensitivity to nature is decreasing, and this affects the way we appreciate nature. What teamLab does is extraordinary, but they must ensure that their objective – in this case is to signify nature in human life – is achieved. It is our hope that the outcome of this attempt will not be more appreciation on digital world and much less on nature.

Nature has possessed beauty since the beginning of time. Its beauty is forever far beyond the reach of humankind, let alone the digital world.  Nature has displayed its phenomenal and majestic “power” over millennia whether we are aware of it. Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), White Nights, Thunderstorm, Volcanic Eruption, Tornado, Change of Seasons, and Sand Dunes are examples that perhaps can recharge our memories on how mesmerizing the nature is.

Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)


If we look at the above video and pictures (and for those who have been fortunate to witness these natural phenomena), we know that humankind can never do what nature does, no matter how advance our technology is. So we expect that spectators who experience the teamLab’s exhibition would also come to this conclusion, nothing less.

If you’re curious about teamLab’s digital installations, you should check their ongoing exhibitions Light Festival in Fukuoka Castle Ruins at Maizuru Park, Fukuoka, Japan, from December 1, 2017 until January 28, 2018. Another one worth noting is Future World: Where Art Meets Science at ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore – and many more!

Check out the schedule of their upcoming exhibitions here.


Source: TeamLab’s official website.

Engineers Could Learn a lot from Dance When Designing Urban Transport

Foreword from Listen To The World

Dance and engineering – at first glance they don’t look like they have anything in common. But if one digs under the layers, there are plenty of similarities, more than what we have come to believe.

Dance enables human the freedom to express, yet mastering dance techniques meant mastering the way of moving around space (and with each other) with certain patterns within constraints – not only of the human body itself, but also the inherent traditions of each dance genre.

Engineering is the cornerstone of human evolution: applying science, empirical evidence, social and practical knowledge to improve, invent, re-invent, and innovate how humans live and interact, not only with each other but also with nature. Advancement of technology is aimed at making our lives “easier”, well, at least that was the initial goal.

Designing for human should be based on, well, human; what motivates us, what affects us, how we think, and how we feel. How we move through, in, and around space, and around each other. Since the ancient times, humans have had to navigate their way around space, structures, and each other – and in doing so have developed patterns within nature’s and man-made constraints.

Sound familiar?

The article below specifically discusses how the engineering of urban transport might benefit by applying the thinking and designing process used by choreographers in dance – but if we look at the bigger picture, most  modern disciplines (and everything else actually) are interconnected. If we take a look back, way back in history, we will see that what we have come to know as modern science and technology, started simply as an attempt to understand nature, and in the process, figuring out ways to live and coexist with it. It should be fitting then, that the application and study of these ‘modern’ disciplines, should always bear in mind human behavior, and how it has resulted and evolved from how humans respond to internal and external stimuli – including nature.

Perhaps it is time that we rethink how we learn, and how we view learning. Learning is a never-ending process in human life since we know so little in relation with what nature has to offer. In Sacred Bridge Foundation’s view, the keyword is not learning but rather the ability in learning how to learn. Innovations and inventions to come up with better ways to live can only result from our continuous attempt to understand how we interact with each other, and with nature. If we are not capable of learning how to learn, there’s no way we can do that.


Engineers Could Learn a lot from Dance When Designing Urban Transport

John Bingham-Hall, UCL

There is little more important for the sustainability of cities than the ways we move around them. With transportation estimated to account for 30% of energy consumption across the majority of the world’s most developed nations, reducing the necessity for energy-reliant vehicles is fundamental to addressing the environmental impact of mobility.

But as cities become the predominant habitat for most people in the world, it is important to think about other kinds of sustainability too. The ways we travel impact our physical and mental health, our social lives, our access to work and culture, and the air we breathe. Engineers are tasked with changing how we travel round cities through urban design, but the engineering industry still rests on the assumptions that led to the creation of the energy-consuming transport systems we have now: the emphasis placed solely on efficiency, speed, and quantitative data. We need new approaches in order to help engineers create the radical changes needed to make it healthier, more enjoyable, and less environmentally damaging to move around cities.

And my colleagues and I think that dance might hold some of the answers. That is not to suggest everyone should dance their way to work, however healthy and happy it might make us. But rather that the techniques used by choreographers to experiment with and design movement in dance could offer engineers with tools to stimulate new ideas in city-making. To test this out, a project led by Ellie Cosgrave at UCL is bringing planners and engineers designing systems for urban mobility together with choreographers to see how their practices could enrich one another.

Ellie Cosgrave with Scatter, The Place’s adult dance company. Hayley Madden, Author provided

From reality to blueprint

Sociological theory about the nature of work can help us to understand why choreography might help. Richard Sennett, an influential urbanist and sociologist who transformed ideas about the way cities are made, argues that urban design (including, we would argue, engineering and planning as much as it does architecture) has suffered from a severance between mind and body since the advent of the architectural blueprint.

Whereas the medieval builder improvised and adapted construction through their intimate knowledge of materials and embodied experience of the conditions in a site, building designs are now conceived and stored in media technologies that detach the designer from the physical and social realities they are creating. The “disembodied design practices” created by these technologies are essential for managing the technical complexity of the modern city. But they simplify reality in the process.

To illustrate, Sennett discusses the Peachtree Center in Atlanta, a development emblematic of the modernist approach to urban planning prevalent in the 1970s. Peachtree created a grid of streets and towers intended as a new pedestrian-friendly downtown for Atlanta. This, according to Sennett, failed because its designers had invested too much faith in computer aided design to tell them how it would operate.

Peachtree Center, Georgia. Connor.carey, CC BY-SA

They didn’t understand that purpose-built street cafes could not operate in the hot sun without the awnings common in older buildings, and would need energy-consuming air conditioning instead, or that its giant car park would feel so desolate as to put people off from getting out of their cars. What seems entirely predictable and controllable on screen has unexpected results when translated into reality.

The same is true in transport engineering, which uses models to predict and shape the way people move through the city. Again, these models are necessary, but they are built on specific worldviews in which certain assumed forms of efficiency and safety are privileged over other experiences of the city. Designs that seem logical in models appear counter-intuitive in the embodied experience of their users.

The guard rails that will be familiar to anyone having attempted to cross a British road, for example, were an engineering solution to pedestrian safety based on models that prioritise the smooth flow of traffic, guiding pedestrians to specific crossing points and slowing them down through staggered access points. In doing so they make crossings feel longer, introducing psychological barriers greatly impacting those that are the least mobile, and encouraging some others to make dangerous crossings to get around them. These barriers don’t just make it harder to cross the road, they sever communities and decrease opportunities for healthy transport. As a result, many are now being removed, causing disruption, cost, and waste.

If their designers had the tools to think with their bodies, and imagine how these barriers would feel, could there have been a better solution in the first place? We think so. In order to bring about fundamental changes to the ways we use our cities, engineering will need to develop a richer understanding of what motivates people to move in certain ways, and how it affects them.

Dancing through cities

Choreography may not seem an obvious choice for tackling this problem. Yet it shares the aim of designing patterns of movement within spatial constraints.

Dance notation. Wikimedia Commons

Choreography is an embodied art form developed almost entirely through instant feedback between improvisation of ideas with the body, and tactile feedback from those ideas. It uses models and forms of notation to plan movements that dancers will make, with qualitative as well as quantitative information. Choreographers have an extremely rich understanding of the psychological, aesthetic, and physical implications of different ways of moving.

Observing the choreographer Wayne McGregor, cognitive scientist David Kirsh described how he “thinks with the body”. Kirsh argues that by using the body to simulate outcomes, McGregor is able to imagine solutions that would not be possible using purely abstract thought. This kind of embodied knowledge is given great value in many realms of expertise, but currently has no place in formal engineering design processes.

The value of all this for engineering is currently hypothetical. But what if transport engineers were to improvise design solutions and get instant feedback about how they would work from their own embodied experience? What if they could model designs at full scale in the way choreographers experiment with groups of dancers? What if they designed for emotional as well as functional effects?

The ConversationBy comparing the techniques and worldviews of choreography and engineering, we aim to find out.

John Bingham-Hall, Researcher in Urban Design and Culture, UCL

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article


Recycling Air Pollution to Make Art

Startup’s system captures particle matter from diesel exhaust and turns it into inks and paints.

Rob Matheson | MIT News Office

On a break from his studies in the MIT Media Lab, Anirudh Sharma SM ’14 traveled home to Mumbai, India. While there, he noticed that throughout the day his T-shirts were gradually accumulating something that resembled dirt.

“I realized this was air pollution, or sooty particulate matter, made of black particles released from exhaust of vehicles,” Sharma says. “This is a major health issue.”

Soot comprises tiny black particles, about 2.5 micrometers or smaller, made of carbon produced by incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. Breathing in the particles can lead to lung damage, cancers, and other conditions.

A 2015 conference paper presented at a meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science estimated that in 2013 more than 5.5 million people worldwide died prematurely from air pollution. In India alone, air pollution has been linked to anywhere from 1.1 million to 1.4 million premature deaths over the past few years, according to various studies.

Back at MIT, Sharma set out to help solve this dire air-pollution issue. After years of research and development, Sharma’s startup Graviky Labs has developed technology that attaches to exhaust systems of diesel generator chimneys to capture particulate matter. Scientists at Graviky then treat the soot to turn it into ink, called Air-Ink, for artists around the world.

So far, the startup, which is commercially piloting its KAALINK devices for use on diesel generators across India, has captured 1.6 billion micrograms of particulate matter, which equates to cleaning roughly 1.6 trillion liters of outdoor air. More than 200 gallons of Air-Ink have been harvested for a growing community of more than 1,000 artists, from Bangalore to Boston, Hong Kong, and London.

“Less pollution, more art. That’s what we’re going for,” Sharma says.

Recycling Soot

KAALINK is a cylindrical device that retrofits to the exhaust systems of vehicles or diesel generators and relies on static electricity, a phenomenon in which energized materials attract particles. Inside the device are cartridges filled with a high-energy plasma. An applied voltage triggers the plasma to attract soot particles flying by, ridding the air of roughly 85 to 95 percent of particles without affecting the exhaust system.

A KAALINK device can stay on an exhaust system for about 15 to 20 days. Users then empty the disposable cartridges into special Graviky Labs collection units, where they are sent straight to the startup’s lab for treatment. This system — co-invented by Nitesh Kadyan and Nikhil Kaushik — removes heavy metals and toxins to create usable Air-Ink.

Similar soot-capturing processes exist, Sharma says, but they capture the soot by dissolving it in liquids, which makes the treatment process complex and expensive. Graviky, on the other hand, captures the particulate matter in its basic dry form. “Other processes convert air pollution into water pollution, and essentially generate more waste,” Sharma says. “We minimize the process and create a recycling stream from particulate matter waste that would have otherwise gone into our lungs.”

Currently, KAALINK isn’t a consumer product. Graviky primarily sells the filter to companies and organizations in India for capturing soot from the diesel generators that help power hospitals, malls, schools, apartment complexes, and other buildings. Companies have also sought to retrofit diesel generators with KAALINK to make them carbon neutral. Graviky later buys back the captured particulate matter from the owners of these engines to incentivize pollution capture.

Spreading the Message

Posted all over Graviky Lab’s Facebook page today are photos of art made from the Air-Ink and paint, including portraits, street murals, body art, sketches, and clothing prints. In London, an Air-Ink mural was featured for several weeks in Piccadilly Circus, and the city’s Museum of Writing has a permanent exhibit on Air-Ink.

One Boston artist using Air-Ink is Sneha Shrestha, a native of Nepal who paints mantras in her native language, meshing Sanskrit and graffiti styles. She has been using Air-Ink for “handstyles” (a unique graffiti artist signature) and has received requests from galleries worldwide to create art using this ink.

Using Air-Ink, a product made and shipped out from Bangalore, also holds personal significance for the artist from Kathmandu. “I am taking waste collected from a place close to my hometown and I am creating something beautiful out of it,” says Shrestha, who is also founder and senior advisor of the Children’s Art Museum of Nepal. “My work is inspired by the culture and native language of my hometown and Air-Ink added another layer of connection to where I am from.”

Air-Ink, she adds, could be a valuable tool in raising awareness about air pollution globally. “Air-Ink makes the concept of pollution more tangible for a wider audience,” she says. “When you can see what polluted air looks like in a tangible form, it definitely raises curiosity and start conversations about pollution.”

A successfully funded Kickstarter campaign over the summer sold out on various Air-Ink markers and decorated T-shirts, postcards, motorcycle helmets, and shoes. According to Graviky, each ounce of Air-Ink — about enough to make one marker — offsets 45 minutes of air pollution generated by a vehicle.

But the aim wasn’t always to create art. “I started with the general question, ‘What are the things you can do with carbon that’s collected?’” Sharma says of his early days designing the technology in the Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group with Pattie Maes, a professor of media technology and academic head of the Program in Media Arts and Sciences.

The initial prototype for the device, developed in 2012, was actually a printer that sucked in carbon and filled an ink cartridge, and would be used strictly for paper printing. But the printer wasn’t scalable, so Sharma refined the bulky device into an exhaust retrofit that could go “beyond the lab and have real-world impact,” he says.

In 2013, Sharma launched Graviky headquarters, ready to release the product in heavily polluted India. “It’s pretty dire here,” Sharma says. “Primary schools have been shut down because of air pollution. It’s a catastrophe. I wanted to create technologies that are new and can have a large social impact, and that brought me back here.”

At first, there was still no specific application for the ink. Then, about a year ago, the startup decided to find new ways to further spread its mission. It chose to do so through art. “Art helps us raise awareness about where the ink and paint comes from. Artists are spreading the word that this is a very special ink that makes a difference,” Sharma says.

In March, Tiger Beer reached out to Graviky to create a large campaign against air pollution. For the project, Graviky gave 150 liters of Air-Ink — or, roughly 2,500 hours of air pollution, according to Graviky — to artists in Hong Kong, known for its high air pollution, to create murals. This effort won the startup several awards, including a Gold at Cannes Lions for outdoor impact innovation.

Now, as the community of artists using Air-Ink grows, Sharma hopes Graviky’s message gets heard worldwide. “Air pollution knows no borders,” he says. “It’s in India, Boston, and places all over the world. Our ink sends a message that pollution is one of the resources in our world that’s the hardest to capture and use. But it can be done.”

Reprinted with permission of MIT News