Although traditional Indian art always had woman practitioners even if they remained anonymous, as far as modern Indian art goes, the First Lady of the Canvas was Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941). Sher-Gil, with her mixed Indo-Hungarian parentage, aristocratic background and Parisian training in art, was the lone star in the colonial times. There was a long lull after Independence for the women artists to come into their own, but they did so in the seventies, equipped with professional training and determined enough to break into the male bastion. These women were not afraid of painting like women and making their own place in art, and they achieved it with hard work and talent. One would like to name just a few of these driven women, who are now celebrated names of the vibrant Indian art scene: Meera Mukherji , Nalini Malini, Anjolie Ela Menon, Gogi Saroj Pal, Arpita Singh, Nilima Sheikh and many others.
What makes the collection finally selected for display so energising is the marked confidence that flows from the brush or chisel wielded by the feminine hand which makes the journey that began in the Seventies seem worth every tear, trial and tribulation. It is not just the self that the contemporary women artists of India are portraying but moving forth to embrace the world and then make then create. This makes for immense variety in content as well as increased experimentation with the form. It is difficult in so large a show to go over the merits of each work and unfair to speak of just a few. It is sufficient to say that the selection for the prizes and merit certificates by senior artist Shobha Broota is judicious and she has chosen works which tell her story with a difference. Congratulations to those who have won the laurels and more so to those who made a tremendous effort in participating. A word of appreciation for the organizers Suraj Mukhi and Simrat Sharma in taking on this mammoth task and coming out with a brilliant exhibition. They are certainly taking steps along with a few others to give Chandigarh the artistic climate it long pined for.
From the many images of the dark Kali and the fair Durga to portraits, landscapes, abstracts, still life and what have you… the joie de vivre is that the feminine fables have come of age!
Nirupama Dutt is a poet, art critic and journalist of many seasons.