No other Indian accessory has perhaps lent itself as beautifully to varied style statements as the humble bindi. You could be a glamorous socialite, an 'adarsh Bharatiya nari', a bleeding-heart liberal or a punk star and wear the bindi with equal panache.
In its latest and profoundly evocative interpretation, a trio of young artists based in Delhi are using the great Indian forehead art to mix fashion and art for a cause. Launching what they call the White Bindi Project, Prakhar Jain, Sumit Sond and Nikhil Guha recently unveiled a massive 5ft by 7ft artwork that uses 39,000 white bindis. The figure represents the number of girls across the world forced into child marriage every day.
Traditionally, the decorative dot in the middle of the forehead was sported mostly by married Hindu women. The red bindi came to symbolise prosperity and status for a bride about to be a proud homemaker. But in a country where about 24 million girls are forced to marry before the age of 18, the red bindi can often become a mark of oppression and helplessness. "India accounts for about 45 per cent of child brides globally and we thought it would be great to use the white bindi as a peaceful sign of protest against child marriages and highlight government apathy towards the issue," says Prakhar.
The three artist-activists, all of whom work for European ad agency Havas Worldwide, started the White Bindi Project on their own initiative in collaboration with NGO Child Survival India. To start with, the initiative made the white bindi ubiquitous at the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai where Tarun Tahiliani agreed to have his models sport the white bindi on the ramp to generate a buzz around the issue. "We then went to the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival and got people to buy white bindis and wear them," says Nikhil.
Prakhar and Sumit then decided to use their talent as artists and make an art piece that uses white bindis. The art work that is now complete was painstakingly made over five months with both of them putting at least six hours of work on it every day. It is a luminous face of a young girl, probably in her adolescence, made with 39,000 white bindis, some of them coloured in five different shades of grey.
Interestingly, no manufacturer makes white bindis since it's not exactly a popular colour with the ladies. The trio had to go to Lady Care, a bindi brand, to order 42,000 bindis for their project. "We were left with only three when we were finished," says Prakhar.
The face is of a young girl the three met while researching the topic. "The girl is from Jharkhand and she knew she was going to be married soon and had no choice in the matter," says Prakhar. It was her cheerfulness and the fact that she had resigned to her fate that made her face alluring to the artists.
The three plan to take the artwork to other metros like Kolkata, Mumbai and Bangalore. "We want to raise awareness and funds for the cause," says Sumit.
Since their day jobs in the ad world pay the bills, Prakhar, Sumit and Nikhil don't care much about making money from the White Bindi Project. "We are doing this purely because we are passionate about using our art and communication skills for a greater cause," says Sumit.
Child Survival India conducts four-day long workshops for young girls across India that teaches them to be assertive about their rights. Each workshop costs about Rs20,000. "Whatever money we make with this project and by selling white bindis will go to the NGO so they can keep the good work on," he adds.