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Monday, March 6, 2000

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Female vision

While the male chauvinist goons of Varanasi went on a rampage against film-maker Deepa Mehta, Delhi galleries were celebrating women. The LTG Gallery and the Pegasus Gallery in Saket have both chosen women as their theme.

Not surprisingly, both exhibitions show the work of Arpana Caur and Vasundhara Tiwari. Both these artists, apart from being women, are also concerned with the place of women in society and their representation in art.

Arpana's work, of course, is more related to the social aspects of a woman's life. We often see her sitting in her painting or peeking out of them from one side. Generally, this female figure is clothed and the situations in which it finds itself vary from being targeted by goons and paramilitary forces to embroidering the fate of humanity on a length of cloth or cutting it with scissors, reminding one of the Greek myth of the Fates.

Vasundhara Tiwari started out by painting matter-of-fact female nudes, subtly removing them from the overcharged voyeurism of male nude painters, and has now progressed to female mother-figures, often wearing unprepossessing garments, reminding one that women hold a special attraction for a male viewer, but there is no need to embellish the work to arouse more interest than necessary. In this, she shares common ground with the Mumbai artist, Nalini Malani.

This work, of course is very different from the usual. The usual artist generally tries to embellish the female figure, either with the colour of the clothes, or jewellery, as in the work of Vaikuntham or by a look or gaze as in that of Bikash Bhattacharya or Jogen Choudhury, but few manage the subtlety and privacy that the works of Sunil Das reflect. This time, it is indeed the work of Sunil Das that stands out in the Pegasus exhibition. It is woman speaking out, or so it seems, until one sees that the gesticulating hands are not hers at all. They probably belong to the man behind her.One may read into it a whole series of episodes from the chief ministership of Rabri Devi to so many women panchayat functionaries. But one may just as easily read another syndrome into it. It is said that there's an intelligent woman behind every successful man, so why can the roles not be reversed? Indeed, we may well see far more men behind successful women in the future.

And Sunil Das seems to be picturing that situation and not just back-seat driving by the husband, reminding one that women can no longer be taken for granted or swept under the carpet like the heroines of ancient myths and epics. The subject of women and the art of women in our contemporary visual expression cannot be overlooked. So a visit to both the LTG gallery and the Pegasus should not be given a miss.

-- Suneet Chopra

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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