A bird’s eye view of 20th century art in India will possibly open up a scattered location of various narratives of modern Indian art history. That includes a ‘national modern’ art in a colonial context, ‘personal mythologies’ in the works of Indian artists, ‘traditions and tensions’ in post-colonial times, complicated image-cultures of India ‘beyond appearances’ in a wide array of still untapped art histories of artifacts, media or cultural habits and the ongoing history-making of Biennale cultures bringing a flood of international subjectivities for an ever more unsettling world. ‘Woman Artists’ had been variously addressed in Indian art institutions as one such narrative.
Political subjectivity as a woman was deliberately worn by a few Indian artists in 1980s and that includes names like Navjot Altaf, N Pushpamala, Nalini Malani, Nilima Shaikh among a few others. Most of them challenged the modern art’s fallacies of art object and the ideologies of the ‘aesthetic’. That was also an interface with the post-modern break into various methods, materials and meanings in art practice and that pushed the limits of art gallery practices in India. Gita Kapur’s study on Amrita-SherGil drawing a parallel with Agnes Martin was an exemplary instance of her own making as a woman who can influence the male forte of art history-making. Many other writers on Indian art variously gave a thought to the women in the past and recuperated many woman-oriented visual traditions in Indian folk and tribal cultures. A few collections of Indian women artists works were variously published. Many art camps and some international shows created a handful of women artists from India. Still numerous women artists of Indian regions remained unclaimed in a national or inter-national space. Before achieving its art historic due, these deliberations started losing their edge for an apparently ‘liberal’ world that evolved in early 2000s.
Looking at the post-modern times from a broader angle of an evolving Indian public domain at the end of 20th century, things look quite paradoxical. 1990s had seen a convergence of the die-hard Indian middle class patriarchy in a garb of religious fundamentalism of various kinds and a new liberal economy of intensive capital investments for an ideal of India as a ‘developed’ country. Taken out of the shackles of a welfare state, women’s cause is now more mediated, though not always politically addressed, in Indian public domain. The liberal economy gave more architectonic professional spaces for women to experiment with their gender roles, among other things. Imaginations of oneself could be tested and tried in more spaces than earlier in a public domain. I suppose, an evolving art market, an expanding world of stake-holders in Indian art capital and the increased visibility of competent women as artists, dealers, art collectors and researchers in Indian and international galleries since 2000 ; these were the outcome of all these. Rather than a conscious and continuous politics of gender that could have criticized the burgeoning double headed religious-patriarchy, it was an ebullient economy that connected more women into the narratives of ‘women artists’ in contemporary India. So there is a paradigm shift in what constitutes the ‘woman artist’ today. In the face-value of a gender-neutral liberal economy, the fundamentally gendered life of people continues for each girl to encounter in her own isolated ways. The so called contemporary art world is no more particularly trending on its political sensitivity to gender issues unless articulated as a cultural question, as part of an art project. All women do not get a chance to academically tune up to this also. It is in this context that we need stronger connecting links between the institutional art worlds and Indian public in the sustained terms of woman and art. Artscapes definitely plays a crucial role by an open call to creative Indian women within or without institutional support systems of art schools, galleries, families etc.
Institutions always try to prescribe certain ideal of the best. Art institutions like museums, galleries etc. are no different. But in this much unsettling world of cultures and economies, art cannot confine to an isolated prescriptive space that will only put art as an obsolete idea away from people’s lives. The phenomenon of Biennales across locations in the country today works towards a more complex scenario of an art-public than that was constituted by art galleries in the times of art market hype a few years back. A dialogue with the society and the development of a culture of art is fundamental and the ‘female question’ might perhaps be waged again only within that frame of a wider culture of art. Unlike other institutions, art initiatives today have the potential to function differently. They can open themselves up and possibly receive the most unexpected stuff from the most unexpected corner and then house it within certain institutional ambit for a duration on some merit-basis and then continue the fresh survey all over again next season. Creative institutions need to develop this quality of archiving the present moment of individual liberation beyond prejudices of artistic conventions. Women today negotiate with the ideological apparatus of patriarchy in many subtle, practical and individual ways. The very act of girl making a painting and opting to travel outside might create a difficult shudder still in some families in India, no matter metros or villages. Patriarchal frames are pervasive. Many women still need a public support system to fight back. To sustain one’s creative expression, every artist, no matter man or woman deserves a tolerant and inclusive public space for art. The female question is also one of citizenship rights.
We have recently witnessed huge candle light protests when acts of violence happened against women, denial of safety both in public and private spaces. A network of Indian women in terms of their artistic cultural practices is important. Creating a female fraternity of artistic individuals need not solely be an art-institutional task. It could also be in the interest of a larger national culture uncompromisingly creating public space for women and supporting their independent lives and creative thinking. I wish all these artists in this show and the Artscapes exhibitions held earlier are constantly re-visited and followed up for the future-female-human’s creative lives in India.