Sneha Ragavan discusses a photograph of Geeta Kapur, Meera Mukherjee, and Gogi Saroj Pal at the Kasauli Art Centre Artist Workshop
For the past year, I've been thinking through how an archive might capture the prolific and often constitutive, but seemingly elusive contributions of women in art (or for that matter, in the cultural field at large).
This is a complex area for three main reasons:
- How might the archive demarcate what qualifies as women’s “work”?
- In the relative absence of documents by and on women in art, how then do we construct those archives?
- If we go by the feminist adage of “the personal is political,” what might the personal archives of women in art look like?
This photograph (from left to right) captures Geeta Kapur, Meera Mukherjee, and Gogi Saroj Pal in conversation at the Kasauli Art Centre Artist Workshop in 1978. The Kasauli Art Centre, founded by Vivan Sundaram in 1976, played a facilitative role in the cultural field of India. It brought together artists, critics, architects, playwrights, filmmakers, and scholars to participate in activities such as camps, workshops, and seminars. (AAA’s Research Collection Another Life contains photographic documentation of the 1976–1985 workshops and residencies.)
The workshop as a model of both practice and pedagogy has been an important site of conversation and community formation, which in turn informs and inspires creative practice. Meera Mukherjee's (almost anachronistic) presence—in the photograph, at the Kasauli workshop, and within the cultural field at large—is critically important. Her work (both sculpture and writing) presents a radical instance of an artist's ability to straddle the interrelated terrains of art and craft, moving beyond both the ethnographic gaze and appropriative nature of modernism as they pertain to the field of craft and folk art.
This photograph perfectly captures some foundational complexities of the cultural field—of the many divergent figures of women in art—the curator-critic, the artist-craftswoman, and the artist—all active in conversation (certainly not in a throwback to Édouard Manet’s painting The Luncheon on the Grass); of the figure of the “woman artist” (or in Mukherjee's case, of the figure of the “craftswoman”) engaged in rest from the physical labour of being at work; and connected to this, of the artisanal underbelly of the artistic field.
Sneha Ragavan is AAA Researcher, India.