Connecting India, South Asia, diaspora with reality art show
By Madhusree Chatterjee, New Delhi, March 12 : The alternative community of artists, musicians and performers in India and South Asia has found a new umbrella to express its concerns in genres as diverse as art, music, dance and performance - linking it to greater global realities.
"Engendered", an arts platform for marginal sexual groups, has created a connect between between the US, India, the other SAARC countries and the South Asian diaspora with an exhibition, "Sri: Multiple Feminisms", at the American Centre - a tribute to womanhood and sexuality by artists like Anjolie Ela Menon, Anupam Sud, Arpana Caur, Shilpa Gupta, Alex Davies, Shimeen Farhat and Puneet Kaushik.
The artists have re-interpreted womanhood in the broad contexts of the social, political and cultural issues that are common to South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The artists have looked at the developing economies in the sub-continent and South Asia through prisms of gender inequality, the fight for justice and against atrocities, economic empowerment of women and protection of traditional and ethnic values among the marginal population groups - causes that bear on the geopolitics of the countries of the South Asian region.
This is the third arts project that "Engendered" has commissioned in India - the first two being the IView Film Festival for alternative sexual groups and RESIST, an open wall of solidarity that has collected more than 42 canvases by contemporary artists expressing their creative opinions around a gamut of social problems confronting the society. The organisation has collaborated with the American Centre for the show.
The platform, born in New York in 2007 as a transnational arts and human rights organisation, has been exploring the complex realities of gender and sexuality in the South Asian diaspora, says Mynah Mukherjee, who coordinates the organisation's activities in the capital. The platform presents an annual four-part festival to bring together the emerging talent in South Asian performances, music, visual arts and cinema. The forum has used the medium of arts and culture to create change and promote social justice by initiating public dialogues.
In India, the forum operates out of its Alternative Gallery in Shahpur Jat, a studio village in the capital, and focuses primarily on arts. Around the India Art Fair 2012, the gallery opened its doors to the capital's mainstream art scene with an international residency project. A live act of RESIST at the India Art Fair 2013 in January, spotlighting on the platform and its activity in the country, drew more than 500 people.
"We are fairly well-known organisation in New York. Our approach to promoting social realities through arts is four-pronged - a 360-degree arts festival, a festival of parallel cinema for the South Asian diaspora, a visual arts showcase and through a global music network," Mukherjee told IANS.
The forum also works with MTV Reggie to address "the linkages between culture, music and politics" with a programme of meaningful music.
"In our shows, men talk about feminism and gender - both from inside and outside. They try to find out how art and culture deliberately shy away from politics despite the fact every art movement has been influenced by the greater politics of the era. We host artists who are refused by other galleries for socially and politically explicit works," a member of the organisation said.
Artist Puneet Kaushik, who has been working for "Engendered", looks at womanhood from a man's point of view - as a "middle class boy growing up in a family of women".
"I have a sister at home whom I have seen go through hell. I understand the bad emotional baggage she has carried," Kaushik said. His angst comes across in installation art - "The Surface and the Self" depicting the "tissues of a woman's body and her emotions captured in bunch of old love letters".
Artist Anupam Sud compares the second sex to the auto-rickshaws on the Delhi street. "As I am maturing, I realise that men and women are different. As a child, I always thought they were same. I have used the auto-rickshaw as a symbol of gender inequality," Sud explained.
Her mixed-media prints on paper included "two series of works - one about the evolution of the modern Indian women in the mosaic of the changing parameters of femininity and the other on the gender voyages in everyday life".
"Engendered", which closes its exhibition at the American Centre March 30, is preparing to take its showcases across the country in the next three months.
"We are trying to promote cooperation in arts and culture across South Asia with as many new platforms as possible to address issues relating to gender and society. Not just in South Asia, but the US government believes that any society around the world cannot achieve its full potential if there is no equality between men and women," Natalie Susak of the cultural affairs department of the US embassy here, said.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)