25 October New Delhi. BNP Paribas India is celebrating its 150th anniversary in India this year and to mark this milestone, the bank commissioned and put on a major photography exhibition by the Magnum Photo agency on the theme of ‘Women changing India.’ The exhibition held almost simultaneously in Mumbai and Delhi will subsequently travel serially to Kochi, Chennai and Kolkata from November to December. It is accompanied by a book of photographs and essays by Indian authors, focusing on the vital role that women play in India today. Next year BNP Paribas will take the exhibition to Paris, London, Brussels and Milan.
This project, initiated by BNP Paribas, combines the talents of Magnum Photo Agency and Zubaan, a Delhi-based publishing house specialising in books for and about women in South Asia. Six subjects covered by six well-known Magnum photographers — Martine Franck, Alex Webb, Patrick Zachmann, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Olivia Arthur, and Raghu Rai highlight the cultural and geographical diversity of women’s lives in India. Photographs and accompanying comment by well-known Indian authors speak to the changing roles, aspirations, opportunities and challenges that Indian women face, whether they live in villages or cities, whether they are students, taxi drivers, lawyers, movie directors or business leaders. The Women Changing India coffee table book published by Zubaan and printed by Pragati Offset is available for Rs 2000 – although there was a steep discount offer at the launch.
At the launch of the exhibition and book release at the Habitat Centre in New Delhi on 23 October 2010, Baudouin Prot, Chief Executive Officer of BNP Paribas said that the bank values its legacy in India and is active in Indian micro-finance and supports microfinance institutions, which allocate loans to entrepreneurs, most of them being women. Through SBI Life, a joint venture between BNP Paribas and the State Bank of India, it is also creating micro-insurance products such as Grameen Shakti and Grameen Super Suraksha, designed for self-help groups, 90 per cent of which are created by women. These products provide low-income populations with access to life insurance at extremely attractive rates. Geojit BNP Paribas has opened retail brokerage offices in several Indian cities that are dedicated exclusively to, and staffed entirely by, women.
Several of the women featured in the book were present at the Habitat exhibition opening including the painter Anjolie Ela Menon. Another subject Sivakami -- a government employee who resigned her job to become a full time activist — spoke of the paucity of women legislators in both the parliament and the state assemblies. With great dignity and eloquence she argued before the assembled glitterati the need for women activists to play an increasing role in the legislation of laws.
Although nobody in their right mind would praise almost any European or American bank’s performance in the past few years, the Women changing India exhibition and book wisely recognise Indian women. Together with Magnum and Zubaan, the bank has created a substantial visual and narrative document that upholds the better side of commemorative public activity and book making. — Naresh Khanna