Teenage and adolescent gypsy girls, celebrating the freedom to roam the streets in the suburb of La Cité of Perpignan in France, is the subject of Spanish photographer Neus Sola’s documentary photo series “Poupées”, on display at Alliance Francaise in Delhi. While one photograph has a group of girls, dressed in denim shirts, jeans and frocks, seated on top of a black car, another frame has a girl in pink jeans in an abandoned plot, throwing bits of paper in the air. Through four photographs, Sola attempts to document the transition of these girls into adulthood, dealing with questions concerning identity and freedom, and the restrictions imposed on them in adulthood as part of the gypsy patriarchal system.
“When I began photographing them last September, I realised that most of the married women did not want to be photographed; they are considered to be a property of the husband after marriage. As children they have more freedom, but once they enter adulthood and are married off, women are expected to stay at home, cook, not work, take care of the children, while their husbands can go out. The would-be brides have to prove their virginity through the ‘handkerchief testing’, and if they fail, the family has to pay the groom or the marriage is cancelled. Honour is very important to these gypsy girls,” says Sola, 33.
The Barcelona-based photojournalist is in India, where her series is part of the exhibition “International Women Photographers Award”, which includes works of 11 women photographers, shortlisted from 785 applications from 84 countries. Organised by Antidote art and design, International Women Photographers Association (IWPA), MyArtSpy and Alliance Francaise, Dubai, the aim of the exhibition is to promote the work of women photographers from across the globe through the show that travels to major cities across the Middle East, Asia and Europe, including Dubai, Paris, Cairo, Lahore and Kuwait. “Unfortunately, women photographers are under represented in the world of photography. Some studies announced that only 20 percent of women photographers achieve a professional and artistic career,” says Laure Parise, founder of Antidote.
Kolkata-based photographer Ranita Roy is the only Indian participant. The 22-year-old studying environmental science at Asutosh College in Kolkata has photographed her grandmother Bhanumati Das, whom she fondly calls ‘Chhordima’, currently in her 80s. She is seen engrossed in a board game with her grandson, taking care of a sapling, cutting vegetables and taking a bath.
“Like for several average Indian women, the slogan ‘back to the kitchen’ rules her life. Men are allowed to lead their lives, whereas the wives are expected to follow their household chores. A home is a home because of the housewife. She is the husband’s partner, who shares his happiness and sorrows, often serving as his counsellor and partner. My grandmother carries great inner strength and keeps herself happy with the grandchildren, after she lost her husband. This is my tribute to her positive attitude,” says Roy.
Roghayyeh, a 26-year-old Iranian girl, also feels isolated at times. Iranian photographer Soheila Sanamno’s protagonist, Roghayyeh was brutally raped a few years ago. In a photograph, she sits under a table in a room, as her brother, a tailor by profession, works with cloth pieces above. Secluded from the rest of the family and treated as an outsider, she is expected to take care of his children, who are seen seated next to their mother. The series reveals the extreme vulnerabilities faced by women involved in rape cases in Iran, where the punishment for sexual offenders is death penalty, but despite the harsh rules the victim becomes a social outcast.
In her series “Cornered”, Chicago-based Kuwaiti photographer Farah Salem, has photographed a woman trapped in a box — placing it in the middle of a desertscape, a seashore, the steps of a stadium, and in a theatre auditorium. Winner of the award, the artist’s photographs reflect her artistic statement, where she notes how women create their own ‘self-borders’ and impose limitations more than the society.
The exhibition is on at Galerie Romain Rolland, Alliance Francaise de Delhi, till June 11, from 11 am to 8 pm.