Against this backdrop of a long history of women in the arts, the idea of viewing a “woman specific” exhibition held a great deal of promise. Interestingly, unlike elsewhere in the world, women in India have rarely self-organized into a gender specific group formation through which they may have sought to exhibit a specific ideological position. While in the 1980s we do see the emergence of a loose collaboration between women artists such as Arpita Singh, Nalini Malani, Nilima Sheikh and Madhvi Parekh, their links to the activist “women’s’ movement” was of deference but not activist in form. Nevertheless in addition to the artists already mentioned, we do see individuals such as Anupam Sud, Gogi Saroj Pal and Navjot Altaf (who was more politically active), voice women–centric positions in their work, taking a political and philosophical position in formulating their imagery.
But as feminist art historians have pointed out, this intellectual and creative position has little to do with an essentializing biological understanding of what it means to be a woman. As many have argued, more often than not, it is the social circumstances within which women find their foothold that often determines the life choices they make.
Therefore the role of Artscapes, a non-profit, non-government organization in providing alternative life choices to empower women is indeed laudable. For the last several years, providing a platform of solidarity with women from across the country, the organization has succeeded in making an important mark. For often, the lack of visibility after graduating from art programs in universities means there is little room for professional advancement as commercial galleries do often not give space to new talent. It is therefore indeed laudable that Artscapes has consistently hosted this juried exhibition to bring to the fore the expressive voices of women.
This year, the work on view, was indeed quite representative of diverse cultural and social circumstances within which women make a place for themselves as creative individuals. Encompassing a wide range of mediums and scale —from the ambitious multi coloured graphic to metal casts, painting, photography and carving, the works also exhibited a broad choice of thematic concerns, from universal concerns over the environment, human-animal balance and social upheavals, to the more intimate themes of love, longing and despair. Some works exhibited exceptional originality in their execution and imagery and were given awards, but this is not to say that the other shortlisted works lacked merit. However, an awareness of contemporaneity and conceptual sophistication, was an essential factor in deciding which work stood out from the other and was therefore worthy of special recognition. It is also important to note that many of the participants came from small towns with little access to exhibitory circuits and this is clearly indicative of the outreach efforts of Artscapes to reach out to the most distant parts of the country. Given the paucity of such efforts, the journey of Artscapes is indeed remarkable and one hopes that the organizers find greater success in the years to come.