Paper presented for the ‘Performance in Public Spaces’ working group at the International Federation of Theatre Research conference (IFTR), University of the Arts Belgrade, 9-13 July.
In India’s contemporary feminist movement, a series of recent projects have invited women to explore and question social restrictions imposed on female embodiment in public urban spaces. #WalkAlone, #WhyLoiter, and #MeettoSleep have invited women to occupy local spaces in ways that challenge conservative social norms of female safety and propriety, through the acts of walking, loitering, and sleeping in public. Each of these projects encourage women to interrogate their own relationship to public space, deploying performative migration and stasis within the urban landscape, as a tool for enquiry and self-reflection. At the same time, they seek to sow the seeds of a culture shift in societal attitudes towards women in India, by producing female visibility through micro-occupations of public space in ways usually restricted to men.
This paper asks how the activist groups Blank Noise and Why Loiter establish digital proximities as a means of transforming private, personal experiences into concerted, public acts. Through WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and blogs, these groups narratavise individual actions online, transforming them into a form of what Judith Butler (2015) has termed ‘plural performativity’. Drawing on my participation in #WalkAlone from the remote position of the UK, alongside online documentation of the campaigns, I explore how digital tools were utilised to forge digital proximities. They create relationships of proximity between dispersed participants, but also intersect between city spaces and an online public sphere. The result is that these fleeting public acts live on in a ‘digital afterlife’, speaking back to both national global and discourses.