"Kunti," from the series "In Response to…"

Navjot Altaf1999

Royal Ontario Museum

Royal Ontario Museum
Toronto, Canada

Kunti is the name of a woman from Kondagaon, a village in Chhattisgrah, India, where the Mumbai-based artist Navjot Altaf lived and worked with Adivasi (indigenous) artists. This woman was an educated female who threatened the local patriarchal order and was thus accused of being a witch. It is Kunti's story that inspired the artist to make this sculpture. The sculpture's rounded figure and birthing pose reflect those of fertility goddesses from South Asia's artistic past. The colour references the indigo trade in colonial history (and by extension its inequitites) yet also suggests divinity as some Hindu gods are often depicted with blue skin. The backward placement of her thumbs references beliefs about witchcraft in village communities, yet the position of her hands is a type of mudra, or symbolic gesture. Unlike traditional mudras, this one is from the artist's imagination referencing the receiving of knowledge in one grasped hand and its dissemination through the other open hand. This figure is sculpted from teak wood (an allusion to South Asian handicraft industries), yet she sits atop a mass-produced metal object now recognized as an icon of western modern art as Marcel Duchamp's "Bottle Rack." By merging traditional and modernist styles with the theme of social justice, the artist challenges dominant narratives in society and art.


  • Title: "Kunti," from the series "In Response to…"
  • Creator: Navjot Altaf
  • Date: 1999
  • Location: Mumbai, India
  • Provenance: This purchase was made possible with the generous support of the South Asia Research and Acquisitions Fund and Talwar Gallery, New York City
  • Type: Figure
  • Medium: Metal, Indigo and acrylic paint on teak wood
  • Accession Number: 2007.31.1.1-2

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