Earlier this year, Indian artist Anita Dube was named the curator of the fourth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Dube’s appointment is significant as she is the first female Indian artist to helm this platform. It comes at a crucial stage within the context of contemporary gender and feminist politics, not just in the South Asian subcontinent, but globally as well.
For the most part, the South Asian art space has—almost unequivocally—been occupied by a male majority. Since the time of Amrita Sher-Gil, a pioneering woman artist of the 20th century in this regard, the status quo has been challenged often, and with powerful results. From B Prabha to Bharti Kher, these female artists not only carved themselves an identity within, and outside of, this patriarchal state of affairs, but also redefined womanhood as a subject of enquiry. Here are five important women artists who feature in our ongoing Summer Online Auction.
1. B Prabha (1933 – 2001)
“It is my aim to paint the trauma and tragedy of women.”
As a female artist who came from a small village in Maharashtra, B Prabha was concerned with the plight of rural and marginalised women, and spent much of her career documenting them. Prabha was a practising artist during a time when women continued to be oppressed, and she used her own position to make a strong statement in this regard. Her simple figures of rural women were odes to their quiet dignity and unfailing spirits.
2. Bharti Kher
Bharti Kher uses the bindi, a decorative accessory in the shape of a dot traditionally worn by Indian women on their foreheads, as the central motif and building block in her work. Kher often refers to her mixed media works with bindis, the mass-produced, yet traditional ornaments, as ‘action paintings’. Painstakingly placed on the surface one-by-one to form a design, the multi-coloured bindis represent custom and tradition, often inflexible, and the dynamic ways in which it is produced and consumed today.
3. Adeela Suleman
Pakistani artist Adeela Suleman transforms mundane, found objects and materials from our daily lives into sculptural forms that bear a multitude of references. Her works speak to the private, domestic spheres of women and their constricted existence. Her sculptures, body armours, helmets and corsets are made from kitchen utensils and functional tools painted decoratively. Always aesthetically pleasing, their beauty underlines the artist’s quiet commentary on the place of women in society.
4. Tayeba Begum Lipi
Tayeba Begum Lipi is one of Bangladesh’s foremost contemporary artists. Her practice includes installations, paintings and sculpture, printmaking, and video as a means to comment on the politics of gender and female identity and representation. She is best known for her sculptural works, which re-create everyday objects associated with women and their lives, including beds, bathtubs, strollers, wheelchairs, dressing tables and women’s undergarments, through unlikely and provocative choices of materials such as safety pins and razor blades. Through her art, the quintessential accessories of the female lifestyle are transformed into protective armour, posing their possibility of fighting back.
5. Dhruvi Acharya
Mumbai-based artist Dhruvi Acharya’s works are pithy visual narratives on the modern urban Indian woman, who is privileged in many ways, yet limited by her societal constraints. Acharya’s paintings evoke a sense of dark, often surrealist, humour and are built from her drawings and sketches.