Ruby Chisti’s “Free Hugs”: Claiming Spaces Through Utopian Feminist Futures


This paper focuses on Chishti's artwork entitled Free Hugs (2002), a three-dimensional installation consisting of ten half life-size female fabric sculptures holding each other in what seems like an empathetic embrace. Using textile residues and discards to shape the bodies, this installation creates a unified female experience of unknown futures, grief, loss, and love. Exhibited on the shores of the Hudson River in a public space, these soft sculptures are extremely multivalent. The large sized women of various color not only evoke a transnational feminist experience but also creates a surreal ambiance using the reflection of New York’s state of the art skyline in the waters of the Hudson River. The reflection creates a background against which these austere figures made of rags and discarded textile material emphasize the need for claiming spaces through a transnational feminist alliance, respecting nuanced-complexity of female existence against various forms of patriarchal imperialism, capitalism, and neo-colonialism. Extending Spivak’s concept of effaced itinerary of third world- female subaltern subject in “Can a Subaltern Speak” (1986), this paper argues that Ruby Chishti’s work “free hugs” binds women within a universal but nuanced experience of being silenced within the patriarchal socio-cultural spectrum and calls for a transnational feminist empathy based on respect and equality, and acceptance of cultural, religious and racial differences.

Author Information
Kanwal Syed, Concordia University, Canada

Paper Information
Conference: ECAH2019
Stream: Arts Theory and Criticism

This paper is part of the ECAH2019 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon