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The politics of gaze and counter gaze

By Sharanya Munsi
PUBLISHED ON JAN 31, 2020 06:24 PM IST

For a city-based anonymous artist, who is known by her stage name Princess Pea, life had been a series of endless stares, where she is judged by people for being herself.

In her quest to avert those stares, the visual and performance artist created the identity of Princess Pea with the help of a green anime headgear, which she uses to empower women to help them talk about women’s issues. Since then, the artist has never revealed her original name to her audience. She finds the anonymity both empowering and encouraging.

“Both me and my sister had big eyes and we would often be asked why we were staring. The mask attracts stares but it protects you as an individual from being stared at and from judgment. As a woman when you meet someone, you are always being judged,” said the artist who holds a Master’s degree from Delhi College of Art in painting.

The artist debuted the mask made from a plastic-like material at the India Art Fair in 2009. The anime headgear has large eyes, which can be interpreted as both shy and angry. Wearing the headgear, the artist spoke to visitors at the fair about women’s issues and saw them reply about personal incidents. The response gave the artist the confidence to continue wearing the headgear as the anonymity of Princess Pea encouraged her.

‘Proxies’, was a seven-act play performed in 2017 in an apartment in Lodha Estate in Mumbai at the launch of a magazine. Women wearing various versions of the Princess Pea headgear performed the acts in different rooms in the apartment, such as the kitchen, the bathroom, the living room and the dinning space. The actors produced a version of the self that is never on display in public.

“The idea was to show that the self exists by proxy,” said the artist, a Sector-22 resident.

Since 2011, the artist has been collaborating with craftsmen from Etikoppako in Andhra Pradesh to create miniature versions of Princess Pea. The toys were put on display for the first time at the India Art Fair, 2016. The 500 toys carried the message of a girl rising and becoming self-confident. The wooden sculptures, when pushed from below, collapses. However, when the force is removed, they come back to their original form, hinting at the resilience of the girl child.

‘Sunrise Ceremonies’ is an ongoing project of the artist that started in 2018. It is an archive of the artist in the headgear posing in different landscapes, places and situations. Similarly, ‘Vague’ was a mock take on fashion magazines and their tendency to objectify women on their cover pages. The 2010 series consisted of mock-up magazine cover pages, featuring the Princess Pea.

After 10 years since Princess Pea first appeared in the public domain, the artist believes that she no longer needs to be the one wearing the headgear anymore.

“I would like others to also use the mask to speak out about women’s issues. Use the power of the mask,” said the artist.

The artist is currently working on a research and documentation project in Goa, where she works with government girls schools to encourage students to take up sports. The author has so far displayed in cities, such as London, Melbourne, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chettinad and Goa.

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