Two women clad in white sarees stand at the end of a dark corridor. A withered look dominates their faces as the light illuminates the exit where they stand. That they are old widows from Vrindavan is apparent, but their ‘allusion’ as a form of Goddess Durga who has been abandoned and made to live a life of misery is the subject of photographer Sharmistha Dutta’s recent exhibition ‘Durga’.
A former designer and art director in the advertising industry, Sharmistha’s experimentation in digital art has been appreciated in group exhibitions previously, but for her first solo project, she chose to focus on gender bias and women’s rights in India. It was her research work on the widows of India that made her travel to Kolkata, Benaras and Vridavan where she shot images which are now displayed.
These pictures act as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and end up narrating a story when arranged in line. Mind you, they also have a strong social message. One is evident through the deplorable condition of widows that is captured through her lenses. In one particular photo, two widows are immersed in worshipping. While one chants the name of the lord through a typical rosary in a cloth bag, the other has her head buried in a religious book, but what catches the attention are her skeletal arms endeavouring their best to not to lose track of any word while reading the book. It shakes one’s faith and fills the heart with remorse.
“Durga is not just the Goddess but every woman who goes through a lot in her life, including physical violence. The person who people get rid of when she gets widowed, is also a Durga,” opines Sharmistha stating the hypocrisies of the society which on one hand idolises the Goddess and on the other mistreats its human form.
Her years spent in advertising where communicating is all about expressing an idea using analogies, come into play as one spots the shots of a common character that is presented in dark coloured clothes amidst the widows in white. There is also a photograph of a boy running past a young girl in red saree on the staircase of the ghats of the famous Dakshineswar Kali Temple in Kolkata. Shot with tamron lens, the picture lends itself to a lot of interpretations for the viewer, but for the photographer, “The colour red was doing justice to make a lot of things stand out, since that is the colour in which Goddess Durga is also adorned,” she explains.
Few photographs have been juxtaposed by using the technique of superimposition where Sharmistha tries to reflect the image of Durga on these widows. In few others she takes help of fashion stylist Rakhi Biswas who acts as a model for her.
Overall, the message that rings out loud and clear is: “It’s time we realised that Durga is in every woman, whether she is the well-educated lady from the upper echelons of society, the quintessential middle class working woman or the humble village woman, who quietly works the field.”
The exhibition is on display at The Gallery on MG, till March 28.