Malathi Selvam, a rangoli artist from Puducherry, draws patterns in coloured powder. Figures of women, mostly of goddesses and brides, make up her art as she draws at weddings.
Anna Laine from Sweden, an anthropologist by profession, works with laces, which she uses to trace simple patterns on paper and canvas.
Kristina Matousch, a packaging industry employee in Sweden, traces her patterns with old packages, which are folded and scissored to linear and rectangular shapes.
“Our art has a common message. While kolam (rangoli or art with coloured powder) in South India is associated with being a good woman, lace in the West is also a symbol of womanhood,” said Laine about the works of the three artists which were displayed together last week at the exhibition, Performative Formations. Laine said, “Our patterns follow a kind of rhythm and speak of our own associations with patterns in life, including behaviour.”
Female figures are becoming central to works by women artists, be they in India or abroad. With many of them charting similar patterns in life, they are treading common ground in their art too. Kolam, for instance, is an art practised by women of Southern India every day—in some cases twice a day, once before sunrise and then at sunset — to invite the deity Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. It is passed orally and visually down the generations from the grandmother to the mother and to the daughter.
Selvam along with the Swedish artists created a third space with their works — a concept in anthropology in which art and traditions break out of social and ethnic hierarchies to convey common messages of womanhood, strength, innovative aesthetics and the artists’ global perspectives of issues confronting the feminine tribe.
While these women are speaking a common language, they are being appreciated just as much for their aesthetics. "Increasingly, critics are judging feminist art on its aesthetic qualities as well, judging exhibitions by their strength and focus,” says US art critic Shulamit Reinharz in her latest book, Tiger by the Tail: Women Artists of India Transforming Culture.
In India, the need for Indian women artists to reassess their art owes its origin to a common social cause.
Women’s art is thus speaking a common language through similar thoughts, styles, messages, causes, shared histories as well as the individual personalities of the creators.