The Burning of Unwanted Brides

December 2, 2010
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I sat in front of my computer struggling to come up with an idea for my AP Studio Art concentration. I wanted to pick a topic relevant in today’s society, while managing to stay true to myself. In addition, I wanted to avoid the ever so popular teenage angst ideas. Including, but not limited to: death, being alone in the world, and being misunderstood. Contrary to what most of adult society believes the typical high school teenager to be, I am not this generation’s Holden Caulfield (although, I do often wonder where the ducks go in the winter.) I am simply not teenage angst.

Over the summer, I became interested in the topic of feminism and the study of women’s rights, and when it came time to choose a topic I decided this would be a nice place to begin my research. Almost instantly, I came across the issue of bride burning – a form of domestic violence practiced in parts of India, and its surrounding countries. In bride burning, it is said that the husband douses his wife with kerosene and sets her on fire, in most cases leading to her death. The husband is given the right to burn his wife if she refuses to pay the extra dowry demanded by him, or if he simply grows tired of her.

I was immediately struck by the topic and delved into more research. During one particular day of research, I forced myself to type “bride burning” into the Google Images search engine, and was brought near to tears by what I found. Images of women who had barely survived the burning filled the page. Their half charred faces and terrified expression stared at me, as chills were sent down my spine. I immediately sympathized with the women in the pictures, and was overcome with the urge to hop on a plane to India and save all women affected by this tradition. Soon after, however, it struck me that flying to India was not – atleast at that time – possible, nor practical. What I saw that day had a profound impact on me, and inspired the first piece of my concentration – which focuses on the varying challenges faced by women from culture to culture.

In order to finish my first piece, I commissioned the help of one of my best friends, Brittany, asking her to model for me. Brittany’s family is 100% Sri Lankan, and – having known her since kindergarten – I have grown very close to them. As I was photographing her, I began explaining the idea behind my piece and the topic of my concentration. She was very interested in my ideas and, after going home, shared my visions with her mother and grandmother.

Her grandmother, whom was visiting from Sri Lanka, immediately began rattling off the names of family’s she knew had been affected by bride burning. I was lucky enough to interview her grandmother, where she discussed not only her personal accounts of bride burning, but also her experiences growing up and living in Sri Lanka.

My discovery of bride burning and my disturbance at its existence led to my passion for the issue, and my interest in other areas of human rights. It changed the way I am approaching my AP Studio Art concentration, but also the way I formulate opinions on social issues and view other cultures. My time spent in art has taught me the importance of diversity and acceptance. In order to improve the conditions of women across the world, we need to learn more about their culture and be accepting of it – not try to deny them of it or change it. Art has inspired me to want to make a difference.

Advanced Placement Studio Art has allowed me to work independently and encouraged me to freely explore my thoughts and ideas – an opportunity which few high school students receive. It has pushed me above and beyond my boundaries, and forced me to think beyond that of a typical high school student. I have had the opportunity to meet incredible people, and share in many incredible experiences. It has opened me up to an entire world beyond that of my suburban backyard, and has made me want something more than what is expected of me.





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