INSIDE THE RINGIN OUR CULTURE, A WOMAN IS IN A PERPETUAL STRUGGLE.
MFA DESIGN THESIS 2014
CALIFORNIA COLLEGE OF THE ARTS
INSIDE THE RING
This is an interactive and participatory experience about how women struggle for empowerment
across the world against a backdrop of varied and ineluctable cultural norms. It is inspired by the
lives of three unlikely female boxers – women ﬁghting more than gender stereotypes.
Women around the world face oppression. For some it is a ﬁght for survival. For others it is a
ﬁght to claim their identity. Boxing, the most quintessential image of masculinity is also the
perfect metaphor for our culture where a woman ﬁnds herself perpetually struggling between
proving herself as a contender while complying with an imposed performance of womanhood.
Inside the Ring interrogates the question:
Are women around the world more segregated by social, economic and cultural differences or
are they more uniﬁed through their struggles created by a culturally imposed ideology of
“At its moments of greatest intensity it (boxing) seems to contain so complete and so powerful an
image of life – life’s beauty, vulnerability, despair, incalculable and often self-destructive courage
– that boxing is life, and hardly a mere game.”
- Joyce Carol Oates, On Boxing
Inspiration for this project came from a documentary, Burqa Boxers created by a ﬁlmmaker,
friend and fellow immigrant from India, Alka Raghuram. The ﬁlm explores the struggles, hopes,
dreams and resilience of a group of slum-dwelling Muslim women in Kolkata, India, who have
found boxing to be a vehicle for personal emancipation despite relentless and systematic cul-
tural and social domination. Through my research I found this to be a growing phenomenon in
many parts of the world particularly where women face systematic oppression.
Through my project I hope to shift the perspective of the western world towards these women
in developing countries. Instead of labeling them as a homogenous group of powerless, com-
plicit victims with no hope out of poverty and social oppression, I want to reveal their resilient
human spirit, despite their circumstances. This shift in perspective is essential to creating a
deeper, more meaningful connection between ‘us’ and ‘them.’
I also hope to instigate a dialogue for women in the west to reﬂect beyond their progressive and
liberated lifestyles about how culturally conditioned ideologies of femininity create oppression
in their own lives.
PROBE #1 :RESILIENCE
“What does resilience mean to you?”
Inspired by Project One Million Bones’ impact and purpose of combining education and art
making for its participants, I attempted to translate empathy into a hands-on activity. Each par-
ticipant would wrap their hands in a boxer’s wrap to feel a personal ﬁght inspired by these
women. They would then personalize the wrap in their own words.
The process of engaging in making a piece of art helps the maker connect with the cause in a
more meaningful and personal way. It also helps in not feeling paralyzed and overwhelmed with
the information. The wraps would carry stories of each participant thereby connecting them to
the stories of these women. Art has the ability to inspire people to action, to imagine and to
dream that a different reality is possible.
My goal was to engage the American audience in a way that could help them relate to the
struggles of women from Burqa Boxers beyond the barriers of religious, social, cultural and
“When you make something with your hands,
it changes the way you feel,
which changes the way you think,
which further changes the way you act.”
- Carl Wilkens
PROBE #2 :JUNOON
Alternate Reality Game
Content co-creation allows audiences’ beliefs and contexts, aspirations and behaviors, biases and
prejudices to emerge in a spontaneous and genuine way. Transmedia activists use these insights to
build content and context around systemic issues to raise awareness and inﬂuence action.
Games for Change is an organization that has been making games geared towards social change. It
catalyzes social impact through digital games, leveraging entertainment and engagement for social
Inspired by the Games for Change approach, I created an alternate reality game that provides a
glimpse into the world of Burqa Boxers: a chance to walk in her shoes, take part in her struggles,
share her dreams, feel her strength and experience her resilience. It would require the participants
to ask the right questions, do research, post-daily updates, and strategize and spend money
towards the assigned task. My intent was that it would enable participants to immerse themselves
in the culture, and understand the social and cultural challenges faced by these women as well as
the people who want to help them, thereby creating a deeper personal understanding of the
To setup a new
boxing club for girls
in the neighborhood
other players. It
and online worlds.
Four scenarios that lead
participants to collabora-
tively solve puzzles and
JUNOON: alternate reality game
A tool that provides a glimpse into the
world of Burqa Boxers. A chance to walk
in her shoes, take part in her struggles,
share her dreams, feel her strength and
experience her resilience.
Scenario 3: Burqa Boxer and
GOAL: To keep her training at the
1. What is the trainer’s biggest challenge?
2. What is her relationship to these women?
3. How can the trainer create opportunities
to change their lives?
Scenario 1: Burqa Boxer’s
GOAL: To understand one
Burqa Boxer character
1. What is her biggest ‘dream’?
2. What is her deepest ‘fear’?
3. What is her biggest ‘obstacle’?
4. Give her a ‘super power’ that builds
5. Submit a pencil sketch of her.
Scenario 2: Burqa Boxer and
GOAL: To convince her father to
enroll her in your boxing club
1. What are his obstacles or fears?
2. What is holding him back?
3. What is his deepest ‘fear’ for her
4. How can you help him overcome it?
What do you think I look like?
Send me a sketch or photo of how you
imagine me to be.
Do I remind you of someone?
(draw on paper provided)
The experience has three levels of depth and engagement.
The FIRST level is a short video narrative capturing the essence of the character’s struggle and
The SECOND level is a written narrative by the character that expands on the previous engage-
ment but is limited to a ‘slice of their life’ almost like a diary entry. This gives the audience a little
more context about the character and her story.
The THIRD level reveals the character’s inspiration either from the documentary, Burqa Boxers,
or the other research material. It may include interviews with the ﬁlmmaker, the real life person
who inspired the character or the article/book that was researched.
PROTOTYPE #1: INSIDE THE RING
Immersive interactive experience
I came across interesting footage, documentaries, news articles and video clips, about women in
other parts of the world who had taken up boxing for the same reasons as Burqa Boxers. It seemed
to be a developing phenomenon especially in places where oppression was apparent. I felt com-
pelled to include this in my prototype.
I created characters inspired by four different cultures – India, Afghanistan, Uganda and the United
States to show the oppression and the empowerment that these women experience. The reason to
include the United States was to show that even though there were no apparent signs of oppres-
sion, the liberated modern woman was oppressed by the idea of ‘womanhood’ that culture
The idea of engagement at three levels continued except that I focused on the type of oppression
in each culture. At the FIRST level, the audience would get a glimpse into the character’s struggle.
At the SECOND level, this struggle would dive deeper into her environment and at the THIRD level,
the audience would get a statistical reference of the problem. Engagement with all three levels
would give the audience a clear idea about the issue at hand.
THESIS POPUP EVENT
Taking thesis concept into real world
Location: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Date: March 20th, 2014
Event: ConVerge: Artist Talks
I wanted to focus on the interaction of the audience. The participatory component of my project,
created by and for the community was intended to spark a self-reﬂective dialogue for the women
in America (the United States?) about how culturally imposed ideologies of femininity oppress them
beyond the obvious, and a chance to reﬂect on their ‘progressive’ lifestyles and choices that cam-
ouﬂage this invisible oppression.
I wanted to engage the audience in this conversation through the action of wrapping their hands in
a boxer’s wrap, which is symbolic of a ﬁght/struggle.