In the preface to his classic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde famously concludes with the statement that “all art is quite useless”.
Wilde was kind of known for being a troll, and was a master of witty epigrams. Perhaps he was just having a laugh? The evidence against Wilde’s statement is out there.
One example is Priya’s Shakti, a graphic novel that came out in 2014.
Notable for its use of augmented reality technology, the most important thing about Priya’s Shakti was its subject matter. It tells the story of Priya, a woman from India who is gang-raped by men in her village and then shunned by her family.
Aided by Hindu Gods and a kick-ass tiger, Priya defeats the rapists and becomes a hero, championing the cause of women’s rights.
Ram Devineni, one of the creators, said that he was inspired to create the graphic novel after the news on a horrific gang rape in New Delhi in 2012.
This month, Devineni and Co. announced a new graphic novel, called Priya’s Mirror, which focuses on acid attacks in India and around the world.
Every year, thousands of women across South Asia and parts of South America are scarred for life in acid attacks, often as a result of unrequited love.
In the new graphic novel, Priya is armed with a “mirror of love”, which allows the victims of acid attacks to see what they once were.
So how can gang-rapes and acid attacks be curbed by graphic novels?
Devineni’s hope is that along with the top-down approach of tougher laws, education can bring true change about from the bottom up. In order to reach teens and young adults, he and his team chose the medium of the graphic novel.
You can visit the official website and download the graphic novels for free. Both find the correct balance between dealing with such a difficult issue and educating, all while existing in a traditionally ‘lighter’ medium.
On the back of Wilde’s magnificent tomb in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris is an epitaph from The Ballad of Reading Gaol. It reads:
And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.
Wilde wrote these words while incarcerated and in exile, convicted for homosexual offences in 1895. He understood as well as anyone the pain of being an outsider, and for this reason I think if he were alive today he would be a fan of Priya.
The women in the Priya series suffer from a forced exile. Through violence, they have been robbed of a normal place in society.
It’s hard to measure how successful the series has been in reducing violence against women. However, the graphic novels have received global acclaim and media attention.
Sorry Oscar, any art that educates or tries to make a difference is far from useless.