Educator Resources

From Representable Object to Representing Subject: Women in the Modern and Contemporary Art of India

The 2018 Teaching Labs series discusses women in art history. As part of the series, "From Representable Object to Representing Subject: Women in the Modern and Contemporary Art of India" attempts to trace the emergence of a feminist subjectivity in the representations of women in the arts of India. It begins with an overview of how women conventionally figured in modern art history of India as objects of representation. In contrast to this, there has emerged the work of women practitioners who not only critiqued such modes of representation, but also heralded new aesthetic sensibilities attentive to the gendered nature of artistic discourses.

The talk explores the works and contributions of specific artists. It contextualises their practices within broader historical frames, movements, themes, and categories from art, cinema, and literature. These include histories of nationalism and partition, migration and displacement, the women’s movement, craft and traditional art, the gendered body, notions of beauty, violence and the gaze, among others, for how integral they were to shaping the emergence of a feminist aesthetics.

Speaker:Sneha Ragavan, Asia Art Archive Researcher

Language: English

Total Length: 51 minutes

 

I. Introduction 

Length: 10 minutes

I. Introduction

Keywords:

Colonial and Postcolonial contexts of India, "The Personal is Political", Feminism and the Women’s Movement, the Category of “Woman Artist”

 

II. Representable Objects | Women in Art and Popular Visual Cultural: Late 19th Century to Mid-20th Century

Length: 8 minutes

II. Representable Objects | Women in Art and Popular Visual Culture: Late Nineteenth to Mid-twentieth Century

Keywords:

  • Women as Primitive Subject
    • Colonial Ethnography, Native Castes and Tribes of India, Stereotypes, Nature 
    • Key figure: Edgar Thurston
  • Nationalist Art and the Stereotypes of Women
    • Artist: M. V. Dhurandhar
  • Women as Goddess
    • Anthropomorphism, Mythology, Popular Print Culture, Religious Iconography, Calendar Art, Poster
    • Artists: Raja Ravi Varma, M. V. Dhurandhar
  • Women as Mother
    • Motherhood, Motherland, Mother India, Nationalism, Popular Print Culture, Calendar Art
    • Artists: Raja Ravi Varma, Abanindranath Tagore, M. F. Husain
  • Women in Leisure
    • Nobility, Leisure, Vocation, Work, Popular Print Culture, Calendar Art
    • Artists: Raja Ravi Varma, Abanindranath Tagore
  • The Muse and the Nude
    • Gaze, Objectification, Profession, Photography, Mythology
    • Artists: Raja Ravi Varma, F. N. Souza, K. H. Ara, S. G. Thakur Singh, Hemen Mazumdar

 

III. The Women's Movement in India: 1970s-1990s

Length: 4 minutes

III. The Women’s Movement in India: 1970s–1990s

Keywords:

  • Public Protests and the Women’s Movement
    • Women’s Groups, Rights, Violence, Law, Political Manifestos, Public-Private, Body, Testimony
    • Artists: Anuradha Kapur, Sheba Chhachhi
  • Women in the Arts
    • History, Subjectivity, Representation, Canons, Feminist Aesthetics, Beauty, Lyricism, Feminine
    • Key Figures: Maya Rao, Anuradha Kapur, Madhusree Dutta, Susie Tharu, Urvashi Butalia

 

VI. Towards a Representing Subject | Women in the Arts of India: 1930-2014

Length: 29 minutes

IV. Towards a Representing Subject | Women in the Arts of India: 1930–2014

Keywords:

  • Body
    • Portraiture 
      • Artists: Amrita Sher-Gil, Rekha Rodwittiya, Gogi Saroj Pal, Mithu Sen, Anju Dodiya, Sheba Chhachhi, Dayanita Singh, Meera Mukherjee, Madhvi Parekh
    • Violence
      • Artists: Nilima Sheikh, Sheba Chhachhi, Arpana Caur, Anju Dodiya, Mithu Sen, Anita Dube
    • Gender Performativity 
      • Artists: Amrita Sher-Gil, Anupam Sud, Dayanita Singh, Anita Dube, Pushpamala N., Anju Dodiya
    • Sexuality
      • Artists: Artists: Tejal Shah, Sonia Khurana, Navjot Altaf, Dayanita Singh
  • Community and Identity
    • Artists: Rummana Hussain, Vasudha Thozhur, Nilima Sheikh, Navjot Altaf
  • History
    • Artists: Nilima Sheikh, Shukla Sawant, Chitra Ganesh, Nalini Malani, Arpita Singh
  • Materials, Media, and Techniques
    • Hemp and Jute: Mrinalini Mukherjee
    • Scrolls and Stencils: Nilima Sheikh
    • Cloth: V. S. Arnawaz, Nilima Sheikh, Rakhi Peswani, Lavanya Mani
    • Photography/Photo Installation: Pushpamala N., Dayanita Singh, Tejal Shah, Sheba Chhachhi
    • Video/Installation: Nalini Malani, Sheba Chhachhi, Sonia Khurana, Tejal Shah, Shilpa Gupta
    • Everyday Objects: Sheela Gowda, Sharmila Samant, Anju Dodiya, Bharti Kher, Mithu Sen, Benitha Perciyal

 

Guided questions:

  1. Under the theme of women in art, what comparisons can you make between your own cultural background and India?
  2. What do you think about the relations between socio-political context and the development of art? Do you find any examples of such relations in your own culture? 
  3. Through the lense of women in art, what reflections do you have on art and culture in Asia?

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