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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Great Divide

Two art exhibitions bring the issues of gender bias under the spotlight by discussing what society denies women.

Written by AMRUTA LAKHE | Published: December 10, 2013 5:03:21 am

A video opens with a newspaper item about a bizarre case of a watchman being arrested after the discovery that ‘he’ is,in fact,a woman. The article reports that the impersonator — the chowkidar’s wife — couldn’t afford the loss of pay after her husband’s death and therefore stepped into his shoes. Though she did the job dutifully,even helped nab thieves,she was forced to leave. The article dissolves into a stop-motion video of Nalini Malani’s paintings that depict the story of the woman and the liability that her gender was to her. The fictional story is by German writer Bertolt Brecht,but Malani’s Indian contextualisation is perhaps the perfect summary of her latest exhibition at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum,Byculla.

Through three such stop-motion videos and 42 prints of paintings from her own book,Listening to the Shades,Malani discusses the bias that women continue to face in society. To do so,Malani’s book delves into Greek mythology with the story of Cassandra,Princess of Troy. Cassandra was given the gift of prophecy by Apollo,in an attempt to seduce her. When she refused him,he placed a curse upon her — she would foresee the future,but no one would ever believe her. “Every woman has Cassandra’s gift — the female instinct. Unfortunately we live in a patriarchal society that not just crushes this instinct but feels threatened by its very existence,” says Malani.

On display at Sakshi Gallery,Colaba,Rekha Rodwittiya’s work echoes similar sentiments. However,the artist’s approach to exploring the prevalent gender biases derives from her own life. Her show,Matters of the Heart,has huge,imposing canvases where she uses life-sized forms of women with her own photographs from her early years placed on them. “By infusing my current work with my past photographs,I wish to examine the feminine space of survival,” says Rodwittiya. Through pictures of her sister and herself,studio photos of the family posing together and some images taken during family vacations,Rodwittiya examines the privileges she enjoyed while growing up,and attempts to ask whether such liberties are denied to women today.

Bound they are by a common theme,but Malani and Rodwittiya’s works focus on varying aspects of the gender bias. Rodwittiya’s work makes strong references to prejudices against women. For instance,on one canvas,we see a jungle of consumerism — make-up parlours,malls lined with clothes and accessories — with which she raises the question of how society discreetly objectifies women. “From gentle to fearsome,the protagonists assume every pose with an unflinching,unwavering gaze,embodying every nuance of a woman dealing with issues of today,”

says Rodwittiya.

Malani,on the other hand,draws parallels between Cassandra’s life and the times we live in today. “The Greek princess’ warnings about the fall of Troy were not only ignored but she was punished for it. Similarly,because the voice of one gender is being muffled,there has been a change in the balance of power. This has resulted in the sexual crimes we are witnessing today,” she says. To implement this,Malani uses contrasting hues of bright blues and yellows. Through the reverse paintings,one can trace the consequences. The works show violence against women,discrimination and destruction of a society driven by masculine thought and expression,with no room for femininity. “In each of these,you see a figure,like Cassandra,at the heart of the storm,trying to stop it in vain,” she says.

Malani,just back from Japan where she won the Fukuoka Arts and Culture Prize for her contribution to the arts,says,“The gap between masculinity and femininity is widening. The feminine thought is curbed in both women and men. What people don’t realise is that when you denigrate women,you’re also denigrating the men,” Malani says.

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