While growing up, Delhi-based artist Shivani Aggarwal was always struck by how her mother and elders would constantly ask her to hide her body — her cleavage, her legs among others. The artist, now 44, divulges how she hid behind the clothes she wore, and at most times, felt that the clothes were stitched to her skin. “As girls we end up growing up with a lot of shame attached to our bodies, whereas we should be celebrating it,” says Aggarwal. She has used the delicate craft of crochet as a metaphor to represent the beautiful clothes she used to wear in her work, Stitched Skin.
As her daughter’s mother, Aggarwal is surprised at how she will render the same advice to her child. Her work — a celebration and revolt at the same time — is from one of the nine artists, who are exploring the human skin as a protective barrier; how the world views others through it; its personal, political, social or erotic references; and the firmly-embedded forms of discrimination it carries alongside in the show ‘Skin: The Finer Nuance’.
Artist Megha Joshi’s Droop 1, featuring a cluster of dried bottle gourds — often used to make musical instruments like the tanpura — grown by women farmers in Mysore, is a reflection on an aging body. By reinterpreting them into women’s sagging breasts, Gurgaon-based Joshi says, “As we age, the skin loses its elasticity, and starts hanging, signaling the end of fertility and youth and the social perception of women as child-bearers and nurturers. These organs are vestigial on the body as she ages.” Her installation The Skin Remembers, made using foam, latex and cloth on plywood to create different scar marks, emerges from her interviews with friends and family members who underwent various invasive surgeries. There is a car accident survivor with scars, a young boy who has gone through a cleft lip repair and an overweight woman who underwent bariatric surgery among others. All of them investigate one idea: of skin having memory and being a defense to the world.
“Even when wearing low neck tops or short dresses, one doesn’t want to be seen as loose, so they keep covering up. The skin of a woman is not meant to be seen by the society and there’s this whole idea of lajja (shame)”, says Georgina Maddox, curator of the show.
In Attempts to Contain, Baptist Coelho from Mumbai displays photographs of an unclothed body interlocking and forming defence barriers like a fortress, with hands clasping each other or tightly grasping the legs. The artwork is a result of his conversations with numerous army men, ex-officers, mountaineers and tour guides, who have been at the Siachen Glacier at minus-40 degree temperatures. Coelho says, “It raises many questions on how does a soldier cope with this temperature. In the end, he just has himself. This speaks of how one protects the body mentally.”
A perfect exit to the show is Baroda-based artist Shormii Chowdhury’s mixed media installation The Second Skin, where the sculpture of an aged woman, housed within an old wooden cabinet, ponders over the many frocks she wore in her younger days, their replicas made using Hanji paper, with her child-like figure looking at them in wonder. For those who pay close attention, the dresses in numerous tones of white and light brown make a subtle yet profound revelation.
The exhibition is on at C-221, Sarvodaya Enclave, Delhi, till August 30