Women in Film & Photography 2021 Exhibition, Chapel Gallery

I am resting on my bed,
My body has become unconscious.
Listless, I wish this body would
into this bed.
Let this pain I have
every month
also vanish with my body.

My 7-year-old niece asks
why am I in such pain?
She tries to make me feel better,
draws on my hand –
a heart and a butterfly.
She knows how to draw
my attention to other things.

My mom never wants to see
me in any physical pain.
She worries every month,
She cooks whatever I crave for.
Every so often, she tells me
to drink warm water.
Still, she keeps her distance.
She won’t touch me.
If I touch her, she grows irritated,
Screaming at me:
 “I will get sick!”
 “I have to worship God!”
 “I will become impure!”

I was confined for twelve days. Restricted from going out into the sunlight, from seeing any male family members. Filled with fear and uncertainty. I still remember those days and nights, my eyes fixed on the ceiling while rays of light came and went.

This was my first period. It took time to grasp the taboo surrounding menstruation––I’m still trying to understand it.

Despite being outlawed, Chhaupadi is still widely practiced in Western Nepal. Each month, women are subjected to a ritual of isolation. Deemed impure, they are forced to stay in cowsheds. An old woman sings, “Stay home, sisters,” in Achhami dialect in my previous work, Our Songs from the Forest. Elsewhere in the country, this oppression takes on other forms.

It infuriates me how my mother treats me, as someone who herself suffered under the same patriarchal oppression. It infuriates me to see other girls subjected to the same dark rooms. The fear is so deeply rooted, it upholds these harmful beliefs.

In every household, we have to fight with the older generation. We are told that while we may enjoy our freedoms outside, we must follow these rules and restrictions inside home. But I ask: Where is outside? Who are the outsiders?

When we get cramps, we can take medicines to ease the pain. But what do we do about the psychological trauma, inherited and passed down through generations?

Uma Bista is an independent photographer based in Nepal. She works on visual narratives that focus on issues of gender inequality. She studied International Photography Program at Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, Bangladesh. Uma was named in the British Journal of Photography’s annual Ones to Watch 2019. She is a mentee of Women Photograph 2020. She is a Magnum Foundation Photography and Social Justice Fellow 2020. Her works have been widely published and exhibited nationally and internationally. She has worked as a photojournalist for the national daily newspaper in Nepal.

:: Exhibition: 11 Nov to 19 Dec 2021
:: Opening: 11 Nov (12pm to 9pm) / Artists in attendance: 11 Nov (6pm to 9pm)
:: Exhibition Tours with Curators & Artists, registration required: 11 Nov (6pm) and 11 Dec (2pm)
:: Online Artist Talks, registration required:
16 Nov, Tue, 8pm to 930pm: A Stubborn Bloom, Uma Bista, Ennuh Tiu
23 Nov, Tue, 8pm to 930pm: Aakriti Chandervanshi, Hong Shu-ying, Natalie Khoo, Yen Duong
30 Nov, Tue, 8pm to 930pm: Divya Cowasji, Michelle Chan, Moe Suzuki
7 Dec, Tue, 8pm to 9pm: Amrita Chandradas, Aarthi Sankar and Ruby Jayaseelan
:: Film screenings, 4 Dec
– Remnants and Reflections 130pm to 310pm
– Open Call Programme 345pm to 510pm