Letter-ally speaking

Dipti | April 7, 2015

Founder of Creative Services Support Group, Anand Kapoor talks about his latest initiative And Still I Rise

In 2007 entrepreneur Anand Kapoor moved to India from the UK to manage his day job as the director of Image Foundry Studios, which had been a part of the winning teams for several international film and television awards including an Emmy nomination. Four years later, with an intention to project India’s untapped creative sector expansively in the global arena, he launched the Creative Services Support Group (CSSG), a non-profit NGO that aims to bring about an ‘Indian Renaissance’ and organise series of creative events focusing on dance, opera, fashion, music, theatre, design, cinema, literature, education, architecture and more. Here, he talks about his journey and his latest project ‘And Still I Rise’.

“About four years ago, I realised that the creative sector of India, the way it has been represented globally, was different from what it actually was. It was exciting, dynamic and growing at an incredible pace. Even though poverty played a huge factor in the country, I felt that people here just needed exposure and opportunity to grow in their respective lives. I also realised that once a child turned eighteen, most charities withdrew their support and more than 50 percent of the children who were in the transitory period of graduating from childhood to adulthood, were left unguarded. That’s where I thought I could act as a bridge to some of them by providing vocational training, imbibing skill sets, etc. and tap in their creative dynamism. And this is how CSSG came into being. Through it we ensure that these young individuals were provided opportunities to build sustainable livelihoods for themselves,” Anand shares. With an aim to help young women introspect, think and produce ideas to rise above the gendered world, Anand’s latest initiative is an exhibition titled ‘And Still I Rise,’ which focuses on the determination to rise above difficulties and discouragements along with instilling hope against stereotyping by raising awareness about gender discrimination among women worldwide.

He shares, “Over the years we realised that women, even when they had a world of opportunity in front of them, never got access to opportunities or weren’t aware of it or lacked strong positive female role models for them to look up to. Hence, last year we held a workshop and got about 200 girls to write letters about their dreams and ambitions. However, the letters reflected suppressed anger, frustration and anguish at being constantly differentiated from boys.”

The organisation has been collecting open letters from girls aged 15-19 in India, the UK, Mexico, Abu Dhabi, Australia and China since November, and has about 200 letters now. “It’s amazing to see how a girl in China feels the same about gender roles and society as a girl from Delhi,” he adds. These letters were then showcased in different parts of the world. He then decided to reach out to several artists from across the world to create artworks inspired by the letters which are now on display in the capital. Anand shares, “We wanted to give the written word a visual expression. Hence approached artists from India, Spain, Germany, UK, USA and Mexico to complement the written word of these girls to weave together cultural nuances. Some artists have looked at gender historically, others look ahead, some have captured the women’s movement taking into account both the past and the future. The title is inspired by legendary Maya Angelou’s strong and inspirational poem, And Still I Rise which I found to be an apt reflection upon these girls and their lives.”

The exhibition will also feature a video of 30 women including actors Aditi Rao Hydari, Shabana Azmi and Dia Mirza and more who will be seen reciting Angelou’s poem and reading out letters.

Quizzed on how his life has changed since he moved back to India and started working with children and young adults, Anand shares, “It changed my personal life in a lot of ways. I have a daughter who is 11 years old and I was never a feminist before she was born. I started looking at things differently after she came into my life. After we moved to India, I wondered, is this the world that I am moving her into? Because certain social, political and economical issues are much more apparent here than in Europe. I became an empathiser and it was incredibly humbling to have gotten the opportunity to come across all these children, especially the girls. As a message, all I want to tell to all men and women out there is: Just don’t give up. If you have a dream, hope, aspiration…go for it. It may not be a traditional role. So what? If it makes you happy then go for it and always be what you want to be and who you want to be. Always look at things from another person’s point of view as it is important not to get wrapped up in yourself. It is important to know how you affect the lives of others as well.”

I was born and brought up in the UK and eight years ago I moved here to manage a studio which was my day job. A few expressed anger while some felt sorry for others. Some girls were highly accurate and in few cases, the writing could not bring out the depth of emotion or complexity of the ideas that the girls wanted to express.

We gave the artists copies of the letters and they came up with their own interpretations. Since the letters were from all over the globe, we wanted the artists to be from different parts of the world too. Putting together the artwork with the letters was a very organic process and the process was a mixed bag of emotions.