Shanti is just 16 years old when she is married against her will to a man twice her age. She has to drop out of school and follow her husband to his home village. Shanti feels lonely there and like a prisoner in his own house. For everything she has to ask her husband for permission. She is denied the right to shape her life in a self-determined manner.
The story of the young Nepalese woman is also that of many other women who grow up with the fact that their lives are worth less than that of a man, who experience oppression and are not allowed to have their own wishes, needs or opinions. The comic “Shanti: Behind the Veil” by Bandana Tulachan is about the life of the young woman.
With muted colors and a few strokes, the Nepalese artist tells of Shanti’s difficult career and how she frees herself bit by bit from the life that was destined for her.
In a large-scale project, the illustrator and designer from Kathmandu, together with many other artists, helps such women’s fates to become more visible. However, it also shows that women are not only victims of the given circumstances, but also bravely fight for their rights and thus bring about change.
In 2020, the Goethe-Institut Indonesia launched a call for the creation of comics about feminist movements. The focus is on the countries of the Global South and on the struggles of indigenous feminist activists. The aim of the project is to preserve the knowledge that has only rarely appeared in history books and archives and to make it accessible to many people.
From a western point of view, completely new facets of feminism appear in her comic, as well as in some other works, which play a role above all in countries of the Global South. The struggle of women for their rights in indigenous cultures is often closely linked to the struggle for territory, protection of the environment and respect for indigenous cultures. It’s about the power of large corporations and economic interests that seem to take precedence over everything else.
“Let the River Run Free,” co-authored by the independent non-profit literary collective Gantala Press founded by Filipino feminists, tells the story of indigenous activists preventing the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the northern Philippine Cordillera region want.
With the project, the government is encroaching on the territories of several indigenous tribes and is threatening to destroy the natural environment there. The Chico River, which flows through the country, is sacred in these cultures and signifies life. The conflict escalates, the military tries to enforce construction in the affected region, and indigenous people are imprisoned or killed. But the women resisted: they formed barricades and bared their tattooed bodies in front of the soldiers. Eventually they too feel compelled to take up arms.
Martinez conveys the events in detailed drawings and a varied page and panel design. Red and green tones dominate in the images, sometimes more powerful, sometimes more subtle. All of this creates a dynamic narrative and impressively underlines the drama of what is happening.
The themes in the comics, in which women bravely and resolutely rebel against prevailing circumstances, are as diverse as the artistic styles in which the stories take graphic form. It’s about the founding of women’s unions in Bolivia and Ecuador and about feminist movements that empower women through education to escape domestic violence and shape their lives according to their own ideas. This also includes being able to live out one’s own sexual and gender identity openly.
The indigenous LGBTQIA movement in Brazil is the focus of the comic “For the Right to Exist” by Brazilian artist Tais Koshino. It traces the emergence of the movement: that colonialism once forced heteronormativity on the indigenous peoples as the only valid way of life. How more and more queer people are networking with each other through movements and collectives in Brazil, increasing their presence and recognition in society and at the same time strengthening indigenous cultures.
Despite all the successes, they still have to experience setbacks again and again: According to statistics, Brazil is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmentalists and indigenous peoples, and it is also where most LGBTQIA people are killed.
A coherent counterpart to this is the very personal story of an Indian trans woman and artist. In the comic “Times are Changing” by Chandri Narayan and Sadhna Prasad, the protagonist looks at the past with the eyes of today, which has long since ended. Their battles are already fought. The fact that she had to overcome many obstacles on her way in life and that she met with little acceptance in the traditional village community is only hinted at.
“Life suddenly feels like a dream where good memories seem to cover up much of the deepest pain,” it says at one point. In the meantime, her outer and her inner self match, also thanks to a sex reassignment operation. She can live freely, surrounded by her small community, which she considers her family. And she learned to love herself.
The pictures are designed in strong, almost bright colors. They stand as the purest expression of a passion for life, for having arrived in the here and now. The comic can also be understood as a plea to go your own way against all odds. It shows that the fight is worth it.