Frida Kahlo, the second-most famous artist in Mexico suffered, in her own words, two serious accidents in her life. One, in which a streetcar ran over her. The other, was her husband, Diego Rivera. The relationship with Rivera , the country’s famous muralist, fixed her in many ways in the role of Diego’s wife who paints. When Frida struck out as an artist, she chose her subjects — necklaces, beads, birds, monkeys — like the American feminist artist Hannah Wilke Kahlo’s ‘objects,’ to work out a language that was specifically female but through which they were making art in a different way.
Rummana Hussain, Sukanya Ghosh, Koumudi Patel, Parvathi Nayar, Andree-Marie and Asma Menon, whose works are on show this week, belong to that sorority. The Babri Masjid demolition turned Hussain, a painter of conventional expressionist figures, into a conceptual artist who began to use objects as signs. When LK Advani’s rath yatra rolled through north India, broken pots, mirrors, the womb, frayed clothes soaked in indigo became her short hand for expressing the shock she felt as artist/progressive/Muslim/woman.
Photographer Ram Rahman, her Sahmat colleague, says of her installation Electric Womb, “Detected with cancer, Rummana expressed the double assault on her body with this work. The ‘Fortitude from Fragments’ exhibition shows the first phase of her moving into a new direction. She was the first contemporary artist in India to think in terms of symbols, layers.”
Wait my Voice is White is Sukanya Ghosh’s starkly beautiful work which began when she set out to work on a photograph of her friend and carried with her the traces of things said and unsaid. “Thus the image of a woman with a stone block in her mouth,” she explains. Her collage, To do List, may be a woman’s list, but Ghosh combines words that are banal (buy mosquito repellant, vegetables), with the wishful (learn driving, read the Russians) , to the aspirational (have baby, quit smoking) and whimsy (he sleeps, she sleeps by the sea shore) to create a wall on which every woman and any man can flag his or her desire.
Through the video, Spit, and a kitchen installation, Koumudi Patel invokes the idea of pain, deformation, bruises that flow from the use of power as wielded by objects such as knives and graters. Parvathi Nayar’s use of the maternal — her work, Creative Destruction, takes imagery from her three-year-old’s world of plastic toys and comic books — is a by the by. Art, she says, is not a calculated collection of symbols, but “an extension of an artist’s own lived life. My work draws on a creative violence at play because one wrestles with a previous idea to rebuild something else by adding something new to the mix.”
Gallery Paintbrush and Chisel brings to the city two artists whose idea of home, childbirth and romance is rooted to the idea of being a woman but not weaklings. Says Canadian artist Andree-Marie Dussault of her acrylics, Home Birth and Dancing in the Temple, “I do not think of women as a specific group where man is the mainstream… My women are strong. They are not passive objects.”
If a whiff of fairytale hangs over Dussault’s works, in Asma Menon’s frames, the fairytale is the reality. In Lover’s Dream for instance, a lady looks out of the window. Angels play pipes. But things are not what they seem. Says Menon: “There’s a river beneath the river. Life is full of contradictory pulls. I make art out of it.”