The exhibition presents multiple perspectives on gender and femininity, and poses questions that invite new opinions and challenge existing assumptions. How is a woman seen? How would she choose to be seen? What are the spaces she occupies, and where does she walk, dream and desire freely?
The exhibition is divided into four interconnected sections - Goddess and Mortal, Sexuality and Desire, Power and Violence and Struggle and Resistance. Each section is highlighted here through the juxtaposition of women’s narratives and are discussed below by giving examples of artworks spanning across the museum’s collection.
Goddess and Mortal
Goddess and Mortal looks at representations of divinity, nourishment, sacrifice and motherhood. Through this, it highlights how works of art respond to and sometimes reinforce the relationship between goddesses and women’s bodies.
This section also looks at women’s bodies within the nationalist discourse, through imageries of Bharat Mata, and later, how women in the political arena leveraged this connection to their own benefit.
Brahmani (10th Century)Museum of Art & Photography
The tenth century sculpture of Brahmani, one of the saptamatrikas, speaks to the tradition of worship of the mother goddess in Karnataka. Sitting in a calm pose, Brahmani is the power and consort of the god of creation - Brahma.
Devi (1965) by Bhupen KhakharMuseum of Art & Photography
In contrast Bhupen Khakar’s collage of his version of a devi represents a rather uncommon depiction of a goddess. She is made of cut up educational charts with body parts that are painted and fragmented across the painting.
While the sculpture of Brahmini represents body ideals of a certain time, with a narrow waist and heavily adorned, Bhupen’s devi seems to be in motion, with her arms raised and a circular shaped body.
Sexuality and Desire
Sexuality and Desire explores how women’s bodies are imagined and how women look at themselves, other women and the world. They also open up newer ways of experiencing and perceiving desire, moving away from stereotypical categories that assign moral judgements.
A central question in Sexuality and Desire is - how do popular culture and mainstream cinema shape ideas of gender and the self? In the film Anhonee, the protagonist Nargis as Mohini allows herself to openly explore female desire. When placed next to the print depicting Saira Banu, it contextualises the idea of a woman’s body as a passive representation of male desire.
Power and Violence
The artworks in Power and Violence highlight how domestic spaces can transform into ominous settings through acts of violence. Women who are abandoned or neglected by their families often escape isolation by seeking refuge with each other.
Wild Refuge (2021) by Anoushka MirchandaniMuseum of Art & Photography
In mythical tales like Ramayana, the public space often becomes a private space. Wild Refuge depicts the figure of Sita in solitude, contemplating in the forest.
Episode of Surpanakha, (Folio, Ramayana Series) (19th century)Museum of Art & Photography
On the other hand, the folio from the Ramayana series tells the story of Surpanakha’s nose being cut and the violence inflicted on her.
Surpanakha (20th century)Museum of Art & Photography
The story is further undone through a leather puppet showing Surpanakha as a saree clad warrior.
Struggle and Resistance
Struggle and Resistance asks questions such as what happens when women are given the freedom to choose how they are depicted? What happens when you undo societal barriers around women’s appearances and identities?
The section highlights how artists have given way to small acts of resistance which challenge mainstream norms and empower women.
Portrait of Sivaganga Ammal (1880's) by Del Tufo & CoMuseum of Art & Photography
The large portrait of Sivaganga Ammal presents her in a neatly draped sari, posed in a manner that exudes power and modesty. Probably photographed in the 1880s, it shows the portrayal of women in a staged setting, with presumably very little say on how they were photographed/portrayed.
I Let My Hair Loose: Protest Series II (2010 -2011) by Anoli Perera, Collaborating Artist: Shirmal Silva Photography: Dilki PereraMuseum of Art & Photography
On the other hand, Anoli Perera’s and Gauri Gill’s photographs can be seen to undo this setting. Perera presents women with their faces covered with hair and shifts the viewer’s gaze from observation and consumption of these images to actively thinking about not being able to gaze, whereas the title points this as a form of protest.
Rampyari (Balika Mela Series) (2003-2010) by Gauri Gill,Museum of Art & Photography
Through I Let My Hair Loose, Perera depicts the woman with her hair open and a loosely draped saree questioning the controlled tightly knotted hair in the case of Ammal. Gauri Gill takes this even further, in inviting young girls like Rampyari to create their own portraits and be photographed in a way they wished to be seen.
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