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The many stories of Indian women

An art exhibition in town presents the works on 15 artists on women and each has something different to say.

art and culture Updated: Apr 20, 2018 19:31 IST
Manik Sharma
Manik Sharma
Hindustan Times
art,women in art,photography
An untitled black and white photo by Sanjay Das.(Courtesy: Art Konsult)

Though coincidences are usually fun, they can also at times be reminders of discomforting questions. The place of women in modern India is undergoing its latest revision, revealing only the worst secrets about the country’s men. Never perhaps has the average Indian woman felt so insecure and so objectified. There is anger, understandably, which must transform into a surge of collective power. So it was perhaps a sad coincidence that Art Konsult’s exhibition titled Women: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow opens almost a month after it was supposed to on International Women’s Day in March. In all the conversations that the people of the country are struggling with, art may be of some help.

Art Konsult’s exhibition puts together artworks by 15 artists, including photographers, on women. Each with his or her unique eye finds something different to say. “I can only channel what I absorb from around me,” says Bengal-based artist Moutushi Chakraborty. “I have studied feminist iconography for years and the feminine body and its interpretation remains my focus. Often my friends tell me my paintings are violent and provocative, but I am only saying what I see. A woman is always a soft target. That never changes, even though governments and regimes do.”

Wuzeeran Jaan by Moutushi Chakraborty. The artist’s Jaan series was inspired by old photographs of Indian women from the colonial period, with no names or identities. Chakraborty started collecting the photos and drawing these women, giving them a name and a unique floral pattern, to pay homage to them. (Courtesy: Art Konsult)

Two works from Chakraborty’s Jaan series feature in the exhibition and have an intriguing back story. “When I was working with archival projects in several libraries in London, I noticed there were old photographs of Indian women from the colonial period. Most of them had no names or identities. I started collecting photos and would then draw these women, give them a name and a unique floral pattern, to sort of pay homage to them. It gives them an identity, I think. But not many women get that,” she says.

The disquieting effect of Chakraborty’s work is perhaps contrasted, though not negated, in the satirical touch of Nayanna Kanodia’s naïve paintings. Naïve art was a term coined to identify the work of untrained artists. Misshapen bodies, structures, haphazard geometry, bright and full colours and a tinge of self-parody are some of the aspects that make naïve art not only fetching but comically relatable. “The average Indian family is an oddity in many ways. If you look at my work, I always focus on the family, and especially the place of women in it,” says Kanodia. “I see women looking after themselves, enjoying the little freedoms they get and I think a lot has changed over the last few years to give them that idea of strength.” The juxtaposition of modernity and a frivolous commitment to tradition is perhaps best captured by a painting of a traditional couple sitting on a sofa, with European masterpieces of art, including nudes, hanging in the background.

A painting from Nayanna Kanodia’s Beauty at its Best series. Her works question the established order with their tongue-in-cheek style. (Courtesy: Art Konsult)

Kanodia has for years found ways to question the established order with her tongue-in-cheek style. Not everyone sees the funny side though. “I remember a painting in which I had shown a husband massaging his wife’s feet drew the ire of a politician who visited my show. He thought of it as unacceptable. I then asked him the logic behind worshipping goddesses, if expressing care for the woman of the house was so troubling. They should then stop doing that as well,” she says.

While most works in the exhibition are canvasses and therefore imaginative scenarios, a series of photographs by Sanjay Das provides ground for reality. “I have travelled the length and breadth of the country. And wherever I went, what I’ve learned is that women are more committed than men,” he says. “They have the will to stay focussed and work whatever comes. No matter what class of society they belong to, what age, be it in the city or in the tribal areas, women show more dedication and commitment towards everything.”

It must then hurt a man’s pride to not be able to match this? “Oh absolutely, which is probably why we get to read the kind of stories we are discussing today,” he adds.

One can’t help but feel the force of Women, tiptoed in as it has on the heels of multiple cases of rape and violence reported from across the country. “We have been doing projects around the subject for years now,” says Siddhartha Tagore, director of ArtKonsult. “This year we wanted to put the show together by March, but it got delayed. I am aware a lot will be read into the timing. It is a sad, troubling coincidence. But also, I guess, an opportunity to have a conversation, that maybe only art can help the audience have at this point. We certainly want to help people have that conversation.”

This is an exhibition on women that should be viewed by men.

WHAT: Women: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Where: Art Konsult, 3-A Ground Floor,
Hauz Khas Village

Nearest Metro Station: Green Park

Call: 26566898

When: 11am-7pm, till April 30

First Published: Apr 20, 2018 19:31 IST