In India, the Delhi bus gang rape incident enraged millions into action – whether it was ordinary people, who took to the streets demanding better laws and greater safety for women in public spaces, or young students, who articulated their angst and concern through music, dance and street plays.
In the creative space, art has emerged as yet another way of sensitively portraying the gamut of emotions the issue evokes. After all, artistic expression has the ability to liberate, colours do reflect social mindsets, and fine brushstrokes can foment change.
According to artist Seema Pandey, “A girl today wants to be herself, wants to be at a place where she can be herself without being questioned.
She wants that sense of freedom, the freedom not to be stared at, to not be judged as a girl anymore.” This yearning for liberty and choice is clearly reflected in their works, which were recently on display in New Delhi as part of a special show of paintings and sculptures by five artists, curated by Pandey herself. The exhibition, entitled ‘The Future We Want...’, which brought together a myriad artistic perspectives on gender, was put up with the support of the United Nations Information Centre.
Ranging from works on paper, to large canvases and standalone installations on the gender theme, each of the works excoriated the need to sensitise people on the subject with exposés that laid bare the disturbing dimensions of women’s social status.
At first sight, Pandey’s colourful paper work has echoes of spring. On closer examination the impact of its underlying ideation trickles down with crystal clarity.
Says Pandey, “It is ‘Me’ in these works, depicted in all honesty and truthfulness. I painted this series in Japan while living alone, enjoying that freedom, being among people I did not know. The varied settings are at places that I visited but they go beyond the localised environs and reflect my roles in life, as wife, mother, daughter and, above that, myself.”
Besides their visual and nuanced appeal, her work is tinged with professional technical inputs. The illusion of space, given through shadowy reflections, the fluffy feel of the first snowfall, the reflection in the water – they all add a theatrical dimension to her art. The highly stylised geometry in the detail such as stick figures, circular orbs or horizontal stretches, enhance her message of individuality.
For young artist, Jyoti Singh – part of Pandey’s show – the Woman signifies the creator. In her painting, titled ‘Glorified’ that depicts a pregnant womb in a crescent shape, the palpable appeal is for the protection of the unborn girl child. The crescent shape is the anchorage of femininity in the work, while the swimming fish, the bird song, and the general aura of nature present throughout the canvas, point to a life where the presence of the woman becomes a striking messaging tool for her content.
In another painting, the symbols chosen for an identical thought process is a herd of deer that is following a trail towards a water body. “The journey towards water is a trail of energy and enlightenment,” explains the artist, adding, “The symbols are drawn from my subconscious, when painting. The golden fish in the water is symbolic of meditation and the female form is the centre of fulfilled desire.”
From imagination to realism – that’s where artist Giriraj Singh takes the viewer. His work embodies the ground realities of the average woman in rural India. A resident of an urban village in the Delhi-NCR region, this artist has first-hand knowledge of the manner in which women are treated in rural settings. “While in their parental home they are not required to cover their heads or veil their faces.
In their marital surroundings the veil is a must, except in privacy with her husband. Such hypocrisy is not unbecoming but harmful. On the one hand she is kept secluded and protected; on the other, if she passes by the village street, she routinely faces lewd remarks, bawdy laughter and more,” he reveals. His art, therefore, is what he likes to call “public art”, where the perception is an exposé on what the artist has experienced within his own environment.
“The veil is like an oxygen mask for the woman through which she is expected to breathe to survive. Her braid becomes the conduit for the air to pass through, the curled piping working as the ‘kundalini’ to let the life-giving air pass within,” he explains. The woman inverts this state of affairs not through acceptance but through a loud protest but, alas, her voice is muffled and society lacks the dynamism to release her from her crushing burden of unheard silence. A palette of muted but somber tones of reds, contrasting blues and ochre, conjoined through a style that is explicitly realistic and graphic in depiction, the works seems to meet the needs and expectations of his thought process thoroughly.
Urgency pervades Somesh Singh’s sculptures today. In his latest pieces, he has tried to give voice to the agonised body of the Woman. Her pain pierces the heart but can it shake off people’s apathy? The coffined full frontal forms have their innards exposed with disdain. Within the gouged-out hollowness of the stomach, instead of human organs lie pins and metallic objects communicating a horrific thought, with provocative overtures. The colours of the forms are vibrant pinks and sea blues, but their message is foreboding, thereby questioning the hypocrisy of our social fibre.
Through various expressions, ranging from the blunt to the subtle, artists today are drawing attention to common concerns on women's safety and security. While there’s pain as well as an observation of the degenerative male conditioning in society, there’s also a sense of celebration, a gentle reminder of what being a woman is, as well as a recognition of her right to individuality.