Sister Library, a project that allows readers to explore books and artworks created by women, aims to highlight female voices in a male-dominated literary world.
Sister Library took birth in 2018 as an outcome of Aqui’s decision about six years ago to read books, zines, graphic novels and creative works by women exclusively. Based in Mumbai, it currently houses about 100 books and also travels to other cities to demonstrate the concept with an installation of bright pink walls and comfy nooks for readers to browse through the books. The vast collection of women authors and artists makes the library one of the first feminist libraries in South Asia, which are popular in cities like London.
“I kept collecting and reading books written by women from across book stores and charity bookshops, including from those I visited from other cities in the world. With women’s works not being highlighted enough, their availability is rather limited. If you enter a bookshop and look for books written by women, it will surprise you with the tiny number of books that will be available. The journey wasn’t easy, but has been an exciting one,” says Aqui, who also co-founded Bombay Underground, a project that works with street book sellers and book stores in Mumbai to ensure they have a better variety of books.
Years spent in collecting and reading the works of women authors and artists left Aqui with a personal collection of 4,000 books. Some of the female writers like Toni Morrison, Angela Davis, Alice Walker and Urmila Pawar led her to take up the public library project, she admits. “Conceptualisation of Sister Library happened while I was reading. I did not want to be in sole possession of so much knowledge. After I saw a few friends borrow some of the books collected, I decided to set up the community library. I see Sister Library as an art installation as it is building so many experiences for people who visit and interact with the works that have influenced me. It is also an alive and evolving project as we accept book contributions from other readers too,” she says.
Aqui, who helps women and children from the slums of Dharavi create artworks through the project Dharavi Art Room, also works on zines and posters with social messages. “When I received the Inlaks Fine Art Award last year, the prize money that I received from the award made it possible to take the library to other cities. Through crowdfunding, we now have enough money to pay the rent for the library’s physical space in Mumbai till next May,” she adds. The library, which is open for people of all genders, also organises gatherings for women and adolescent girls to bond and discuss various subjects.
“I would be very happy if someone wants to make a Sister Library in other cities too. But, I do not want to do it myself as people living in that city would be able to create a space that makes sense to them. Each time I travel to another place, I’m still an outsider. I curate books based on my experiences of the city,” she remarks.