By now it is a well-established fact that there are more number of female nudes in world art than female artists. For centuries, artists (male) have used female bodies as their favourite subjects. The prolific presence of male artists in the art world and the marginal presence of female artists and female subjectivity has been a major issue of contention in the last few decades. Though occasionally, in history, very few female artists have challenged this domination and had taken powerful stands against this discrimination. Art historians like Linda Nochlin, Carol Duncan, and Griselda Pollock, theorists such as Audre Lorde, Laura Mulvery and Bell Hooks’ have challenged this dominance in art making and history writing. They have offered new ways of looking at art.
More problematic is how the female subjectivity is often objectified for sensuous pleasure or the female body is used by the male artists to shock the public. The female subjects in arts is often submissive, tamed, and are sometimes depicted as sensuous women whose main role is to titillate or otherwise embody the examples of ideal women. Feminist art collectives such as Guerilla Girls have militantly challenged this assumption. They have also radically intervened in this problem through their acts of “vandalisms”. Gender equality is a major concern of our times. Compared to the western art world, most of our critically acclaimed and successful artists are women. We also have to look at the successful female gallerists who played an important role in heralding the arrival and consolidation of contemporary Indian art. As curators, how do we tackle the problem of gender discrimination.
In today’s Art1st’s “The Curator” series we introduce you to an important exhibition co-curated by eminent curator Roobina Karode, which could be politically identified as feminist. Also important is the venue of this exhibition which was at the Women’s Studies Research Center and Mildred Lee Gallery, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University.
The Curator #11
Title: “Tiger by the Tail! Women Artists of India Transforming Culture”, 2007.
Roobina Karode is the Director and Chief Curator at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, the first private modern and contemporary art museum in India. Since its inception in 2010, she has curated several acclaimed exhibitions at KNMA. Karode curated ‘Open Doors’ at the launch of KNMA Noida in 2010 and ‘Time Unfolded’ at the opening of KNMA Saket in 2011. Karode specializes in Art History and in Education and has been involved with the teaching of Western and Indian Art History (1990-2006) at various institutions, mainly The School of Art & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, The National Museum Institute, College of Art and the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi. Karode was awarded the Fulbright Fellowship in 2000 and was placed as a Visiting Scholar at Mills College in California, where she curated Resonance, an exhibition on California Painters and Sculptors from the Mills College Art Collection. As a critic, she continues to contribute thematic essays and reviews to art journals and the Art India Magazine. She has written extensive monographs on contemporary Indian artists across generations and for cross-cultural collaborations. Karode co-curated a seminal exhibition titled ‘Tiger by the Tail! Women Artists of India Transforming Culture’ in 2008, showcasing contemporary art by seventeen women artists of India at the Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University, USA. She has also curated a major retrospective exhibition on the internationally acclaimed US based artist-printmaker Krishna Reddy at the IGNCA, New Delhi. (Courtesy: KNMA)
The exhibition in discussion was a radical departure from the conventional ways of portraying women and women artists. The other two curators who were part of this project were Elinor Garden and Wendy Tarlow Kaplan. It emphasized on the aggression and ferocity which is required to smash the structures of female oppression. It featured painting, sculpture, drawing, photography and video art of 17 established artists. The works of these artists responded to ongoing patriarchal aggression and communal violence in India. The title of the exhibition invoked the image of the fierce tiger to denote this aggression in speaking out about their issues.
The 35 pieces comprising “Tiger by the Tail!” were organized around universal narratives: Transforming the Myth; Subverting the Icon; Performing the Body; Issues of Identity; Memory and Loss; and Healing and Empowerment.
According to Karode, “The artworks are culturally specific and address the current and historical concerns within the Indian context. At the same time, they resonate with global concerns and introduce a woman’s subjectivity, which has been excluded from Indian art until now.”
“Gogi Saroj Pal subverts the icon of the tiger, which in India has long symbolized primal ferocity. In her painting “Hatyogini, Shakti,” a woman sits atop the wild animal, playfully domesticating it as if it were a household pet. A self-portrait, the painting transforms traditional Hindu iconography of the goddess Durga into an image that is both powerful and erotic.
Anita Dube presents a paradoxical motif in her black and white photographs “Sea Creature.” Four open hands are covered with the all-seeing eyes of the Hindu devotional practice. In her work, the small ceramic eye, traditionally offered to the goddess for protection, is subverted when employed in the secular domain. In this way, Dube transforms the sacred object into a marker of mindless religiosity.
Vasudha Thozhur’s “Untouchable” recalls the Hindu practice of sati, in which a widow commits suicide on her husband’s funeral pyre. In her transgressive treatment of this patriarchal horror, Thozhur paints herself seated defiantly on a burning pile of wood, inviolable and untouched by the flames.” (Courtesy: Brandeis University)
The exhibition was able to show that feminism is not a monolithic movement. The challenges and discrimination faced by women across the world are different. The stretegies used to fight back vary. But most importantly one has to realise that there is a universal discrimination.
The catalog of the book is available online for purchase.
Have a happy weekend friends. Please let us know what you think about the issues mentioned in this article in the comments section.
- Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st