what does it mean to be a young female artist in india today?
Ahead of Girls Only India opening this weekend we explore some of the exhibition's highlights, whilst founder and curator, Antonia Marsh, catches up with some of the artists featured.
Girls Only India is the latest exhibition from British curator and Girls Only founder Antonia Marsh. Comprising a wealth of diverse media, from photography, painting, and performance, to sculpture, drawing, and the written word, the exhibition showcases the work of 15 contemporary female artists creating in India. Following on from her exhibitions in London, Copenhagen, and New York, Marsh continues her focus on supporting, celebrating and promoting women in art.
Opening this weekend at Bombay's Ministry of New, a design-inspired collaborative workspace, Girls Only India will eventually travel to the UK this summer, culminating in an exhibition at London's Cob Gallery. In an exclusive preview, we explore some of the exhibition highlights, while Marsh catches up with three of the artists featured below.
The women in your images are sneezing. Where did the idea of immortalizing this moment of half pleasure, half pain derive from?
This series is and ode to studio portrait photography. The women here are carefully made up, their hair is styled, and they are ready to be captured against picturesque wallpaper. At this moment I wanted to bring in the idea of turbulence and asked myself what could be more dramatic than the women themselves. Hence, the idea of them sneezing -- something that disturbs the calm of a prepared activity. As you said, people seem to be at their most vulnerable when they sneeze and yet seek the release it brings. When I titled them, I looked up the names of major natural disasters and how they all have been given female names. When you drive such absurd coincidences to an extreme, it creates a comic situation making us laugh at ourselves.
In your other work you address issues of body politics, body image, and sexuality. These are radical issues to confront. What is your experience presenting work like this as a young female artist in India?
There are more chances of being heard if one speaks. I speak through my work, at this point, essentially through drawings. I am glad I have the freedom to present such ideas and if my voice as an individual matters, I am saying what I know. Confrontation is not the fabric of my work, dialogue is.
Shreya Dev Dube
You are showing photographic work from the past decade. Has this been a cathartic process for you? Or a stressful one?
Initially I was very confused trying to find a that thread that connects all my images over so many years. Naturally my eye has evolved, however what's interesting is that the connection with my subjects is still the same.
Tell me about your experience as a young female filmmaker shooting in Burma. Do you think this would be different now, three years later?
When I was in Burma in 2013, to me it seemed like what India must be 50 years ago; I have never been in a country that has so little but at the same time the people are so severely generous and filled with kindness. If anything, they were curious about a women behind the camera and they invited me into intimate settings. I wonder if this would be the case three years on; it's become more touristy and the locals might have become use to the idea of being photographed.
Why did you write, "A woman has been sexually harassed here" on your posters? And how did you choose where to put them up?
On my posters I've written 'a woman was harassed here' since we as women -- because of harassment in public spaces -- develop a persistent and uneasy feeling of being watched everywhere we go and it surprises me that people don't understand how constant and negative that feeling is. Apart from causing mental and physical distress, harassment in public spaces hinders our mobility and infringes on our access to public spaces. Gender inequity and multiple exclusions of women from public spaces produce a masculinization of these spaces in urban settings. In this, we are forced to perform a model femininity to retain our respectability in the street. Public spaces are taken for granted as safe spaces; in my intervention I'm trying to address this by wheat-pasting posters in places that I was personally harassed. By doing so, I hope to create a discourse on harassment as well as dismantle the notion of public spaces as being safe spaces for all.
I primarily pasted the posters in places where I was harassed; I've also put them in locations that I visit frequently like Bandra, Fort, Colaba, and Chembur.
Do you personally identify with your intervention or does this project stand for women in India or globally more generally?
Yes I do identify with this project; it was conceived from my desire to build communication with women who may have encountered harassment in these space and felt isolated, vulnerable, or even like they brought it onto them. These posters are an attempt to build solidarity with these women as well as connect with men who may consider acts of harassment as an everyday thing and not as harmful as it is. This collective experience of women is never addressed; a culture of silence encompasses and if it is spoken about at all, it is in hushed tones. We are socialized as good girls to ignore them and walk away in order to retain our respectability. I wish it were not as generalizable, but sadly it is not. I know not a single woman who has not been harassed in public spaces; therefore I believe that the need for intervention like this is paramount globally and in India. Young girls should not grow up believing like us that this is the way it is, and [that] boys will be boys. Similarly, boys shouldn't grow up feeling entitled to spaces and bodies of women everywhere. Patriarchy harms everyone and this systemic violence needs to stop. This intervention is my small attempt to address it.
Text Tish Wienstock