Indian, foreign women artists tread common ground
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.Updated: Mar 10, 2009 11:08 IST
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 black-and-white 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.
"It is a feminine art which is a common bond between the women in the family. Girls are taught to make kolam art before weddings and can do it even after they are married," Selvam told IANS.
She 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, strengths, 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.
"The need to reassess the art practice of Indian women was premised on the precarious position they were found in. While on the one hand, they were sceptical of traditions, patriarchy and repressions, on the other, they were equally chary of the Western model of feminist practice and uneasy with the binary model that slotted everything in either/or divides," said art critic Roobina Karode.
Using the strategies of resistance and recovery, they had to examine and reflect on their own experiences, both as a witness and an agent of change, she said.
For artist Arpita Singh, the domestic terrain became an overpowering landscape of cluttered spaces of everyday objects. And the woman figure became central to her compositions.
Artists like Gogi Saroj Pal, Nalini Malani, Arpita Singh and Nalini Malani - who were contemporaries - sought to paint the woman as a subject retrieving her from the male gaze.
Sheela Gowda morphs the female bodies to arrive at brutal abstractions while Arpana Caur paints aspirational themes that revive hope of resurrecting the self and world through "bhakti".
Kanchan Chander uses self-portraits to externalise landscapes and Mithu Sen, the most audacious of all, investigates social and moral taboos and fixed female stereotypes that perpetuates notions of beauty, niceness and perfection.
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.