Despite the often Western exoticizing perspective on India as the country fulfilled with ancient traditions and spirituality, it is a society deeply divided by class (casts) and even gender. The situation is complex, due to various ethnic and religious differences and the fact that the majority of the population in this humongous country is swept by poverty, especially in rural areas. Regardless of the technological and economic progress, it is the tradition which molds the society and disables woman to be completely liberated. In general, the law does not, in any case, makes segregation, but the high rate of domestic violence proves that India is struggling with the patriarchal mechanism quite much.
Nevertheless, art has always been an open filed for women artists and an important tool for social and political articulation from the gender perspective, so they have expressed many forms of repression and discrimination by using various media and by incorporating both traditional and modern-day motifs. A large number of them have been active even in the pre-independence era, but the visibility of women-made art production grew; which can perhaps be contributed to the prominence of Indira Gandhi, the first Indian female prime minister. Unfortunately, during the course of time, the position of Indian women has not changed, which is related to the fact that India is considered to be a country in transition.
The Female Indian artists are still dealing with aforementioned subjects, but in accordance with globalization, nationalism and religious fundamentalism. The project Facing India, which is going to be presented at The Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg from 29 April until 07 October 2018, is based on the critical reflection of those processes and is thought as a collective dialog between six participants. Therefore, the exhibition space is divided into six segments with an open forum in the center so that the audience can sense the communicative potential of the works and an exhibition as a whole.
As a matter of fact, this showcase should be perceived as a survey on contemporary Indian women art and their new and old work alike with a premise of a social and political engagement. Although of different sensibilities expressed through different media and various topics, the artists Prajakta Potnis, Vibha Galhotra, Mithu Sen, Reena Saini Kallat, Bharti Kher and Tejal Shah share a unique approach to the female experience in the light of empathy and solidarity, and bellow you can read a brief summary of the practices of each artist.
Featured images: Reena Saini Kallat - Crease/Crecvice/Contour (detail), 2008. Pigment print on Hahnemuhle Museum etching archival paper, set of 10 prints each 101 x 127 cm. Courtesy of the artist, photo: Iris Dreams; Bharti Kher - Portrait Manju, 2013. Saris, resin, cement, 152 x 63 x 56 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg.
Prajakta Potnis is a Mumbai-based artist focused on producing rather poetical works mostly devoted to the questioning of domestic work expressed through the media of photography, sculpture, painting, and installations.
Potnis was born in 1980 and has received bachelor and Master of Arts from J.J School of Art in Mumbai and a degree in Film Appreciation Course at the Film and Television Institute of India. By setting her narratives in the home, especially the kitchen, the artist underlines the enticing tie between technological progress and tradition. The objects such as the blender or the dryer become signifiers of intense social critique respectively struggle for identity and emancipation.
Featured image: Prajakta Potnis - Capsule 1, 2012. C-print on archival cotton rag paper, 96.5 x 152 cm. Courtesy of the artist
By focusing on the environmentalist and ecological issues, New Delhi-based artist Vibha Galhotra articulates the possibility of communicating important social and political aspects of human existence. With a dose of irony, she constructs a strong pictorial language and questions the contamination of sacred rivers, the use of safety masks as fashion items, etc.
Galhotra was born in 1978. She earned BFA at the Government College of Arts in Chandigarhand, and her Master in Fine arts at Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan. She works with sculptures, large-scale installations, films, and drawings.
Featured image: Vibha Galhotra - Negotiated Necessities, 2008. Digital Print on Archival Paper, 61 x 182.9 cm. Courtesy of the artist
Born in 1971 in West Bengal, Mithu Sen studied painting at Kala Bhavan at Santiniketan, and a Ph.D. at the Glasgow School of Art. The artist mostly makes paintings, drawings, and collage, while the focus of her practice is the human body. Through the lens of femininity and sexuality, Sen overlaps gender characteristics of different species, by introducing mutants or hybrids.
These peculiar entities can be seen as the artist's reaction to pollution, genetic engineering and an array of modifications caused by an external factor.
Featured image: Mithu Sen - Border Unseen (detail), 2014. Installation, false teeth and dental polymer, 25 m. Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, USA
The work of Reena Saini Kallat, born in 1973 in Delhi, could easily be described as a purely political one. She graduated from Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art in with a B.F.A. in painting, and by using various media from photography to video, as well as diverse materials, she produces critically charged works which question the themes of remembrance, memory, identity, and borders.
The central motif of hers is a rubber-stamp as a signifier of bureaucracy so typical for transitional societies. On the other hand, notable is the element of electrical cables in Kallat’s work, which is a symbol of both connection and chaos present in Indian society.
Featured image: Reena Saini Kallat - Woven Chronicle, 2011-16. Circuit boards, speakers, electric wires and fittings, site-specific installation, single channel audio, 10:00 min, 322 x 1447 x 30 cm. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Reena Kallat Studio
Bharti Kher is a well-known Indian artist born in 1969 in London. She is expressing herself through installation, paintings, and sculpture and each of her works reflect the traditional position of Indian women.
Namely, traditional clothing and other elements of decoration are transformed in ready-mades and are deployed of their function in the absence of the body. By appropriating those objects, Kher at the same time dissects patriarchal codes and tells a narrative of women emancipation through the rejection of feminine prerogatives inscribed by tradition.
Featured image: Bharti Kher - Six Woman, 2013 - 2016. Plaster, wood, resin. In 6 parts, each ca. 123 x 61 x 95,5 cm. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Document Photography
Perhaps one of the most radical women artists from India is Tejal Shah, born in 1979 in Bhilai. Sound, installation, video, and photography are the media she works with and through which she expresses the notions of gender, sexuality, disabilities in regards to nature, mythology and contemporaneity.
The artist is interested in emphasizing completely new models of gender identity such is a third gender (hijra), regardless of biological and social cannons. Shah constantly examines her politically charged agenda in order to challenge the society to change and emancipate.
Feature image: Tejal Shah - Between the waves - animation (channel III), 2012. HD-Video, color and b/w, surround sound, 01:30 min. Courtesy the artist and Barbara Gross Galerie, Munich