Gender violence has closely been avoided by the art folk. Afraid to brand themselves as ‘feminists’, the quiet among these people has stirred a curator who feels that more than a gender problem, violence is a humanitarian issue that needs urgent brooding.
The personal perhaps has never before mingled so closely with the political when hordes of angry Indians surged through the streets demanding an answer for the December 16 Delhi gang rape case. The genuine protestors and the provocateurs painted a large canvas of frustration and an overall break in the silent bearing of gender violence that this patriarchal country has comfortably kept up.
Silence has largely been the language of women across the world. While a woman had to be seen not heard, as the popular adage goes, they have silently withstood and witnessed gender violence. Rare Acts of Political Engagement, an art installation aimed to break the stereotyped woman who did everything apart from rising to defend herself. The exhibition is not, as would seem ostensibly, an upheaval of feminist anger, rather it is a feminist critique of the atrocities against women and an aesthetic production of a political engagement that the artists infer as their right.
Johny ML, the curator of the show stands apart from the 24 women with feminist leanings as the only man involved in the project. What he says of this speaks of a silent art community that is otherwise considered as sensitive. “As a male curator and art critic I waited for some female curator to come up with a project that would discuss gender disparities at the wake of Delhi Gang rape issue. But for a month or so I did not see anyone doing it.” He explains that many from the art fraternity are reluctant to be branded as feminists, this he blames on ‘social perceptions’ and ‘market realities’.
Rare Acts of Political Engagement acronymed R.A.P.E is not simply a dig at sensationalism or a reiteration of a topical event. According to Johny, the show is rare in the fact that these women have been given complete artistic freedom to express how they look at themselves being a victim of circumstances of patriarchy and dominance. It is a direct result of the personal realm affecting the political sphere, a much needed change of course that follows gender violence.
Works such as ‘Touch Your Hymen is Still Stuck With Your Vagina’ by Arshi Irshad is a commentary on the over sexualised body of the woman that often leads to physical torture. Through her intricate work of alternating body parts and writing in Urdu, Irshad aims to raise the viewers’ sensitivity of how violence of the female body has been a fetish since history. Kavita Singh Kale in ‘Gear Up’ brings out the irony in the governmental system of surveillance which is male chauvinistic and intrusive in its gaze and fails to pin-point evils in society that hoodwink this ‘ever-seeing’ eye and indulge in gender atrocities.
Kanika Sharma uses sanitary pads with text printed in red to juxtapose the unreasonable statements by political, religious and social leaders. The pads are physical metaphors to the taboo that surrounds womanhood and chastity. The natural path of pubescence and menstruation is seen as a ‘ruthless application of power to enslave’ a woman in the garb of physical incompetence and fatigue. Bold statements such as ‘My body is mine and no one has the right to violate it’ speak of a larger picture of exasperation that women have felt toward gender violence.
Meena Kandasamy, noted poet and social activist speaks of the multifarious channels of female suppression that happen in a Hindu scenario. Her triptych, ‘Bondage and Submission’ is a photography of a rarely photographed female body that is weighed down by societal markers like the ‘mangalsutra’, the sacred thread and the fulfilment of religious requisites have made her an adorned object of subjugation.
The phallic metaphor is mostly visible in most of the works. A reversal of the ‘male gaze’ is seen in Pari Bhaishya’s ‘Uniform’. Drawing from a personal experience when a policeman tried to show her his nudity, Baishya, by showing a complete nude man with a police cap and a flaccid penis aims at closure.
The fragmentation of the female body into parts has been explored by Megha Joshi’s ‘Object’ where surrogate silicon nipples are attached to a horn, daring the man to think of the implications of groping a female.
The works at the installation question hegemonic masculinity that men use against women and the trashing of a perverted physicality that they seem empowers them. Sex has been seen as a duty to be fulfilled by women and by questioning this mis-conception, these gifted artists are inching closer to building an egalitarian approach to gender by both the sexes.
As Meena Kandasamy speaks of the power of art in the course of change, “I think art always is a talking point and a space for dialogue. Because art makes a statement, it deserves and calls for a statement in return. While I have the lived experience of what it means to inhabit a lower caste woman’s body, I was making this statement on a larger basis. “