Ayes for the eyes: Delhi art gallery's women muses parallel modern art

Delhi art gallery DAG's ongoing Indian art show and sale - 'Ways of Seeing' - focuses on 'the gaze' featuring 180 works by artists of both the sexes paralleling the modern art movement in India.

Published: 14th February 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th February 2021 11:03 AM   |  A+A-

An Unknown Bride by Bikash Bhattacharjee (L) and Untitled (Two women Amid Plants) by George Keyt

An Unknown Bride by Bikash Bhattacharjee (L) and Untitled (Two women Amid Plants) by George Keyt. (Photo| EPS)

Express News Service

The artist's gaze has been a part of historical reality - from the time when artists in general were men and so were the patrons, adding a voyeuristic quality to paintings with women being objectified. But with time, both the artist and the subjects changed.

Over the years, the prominence of women artists accelerated this change bringing in a greater diversity to the work. Delhi art gallery DAG's ongoing Indian art show and sale - 'Ways of Seeing' - focuses on 'the gaze' featuring 180 works by artists of both the sexes paralleling the modern art movement in India.

Kishore Singh, Head of Exhibitions at DAG, explains the difference between the two sexes when portraying the same subject, "Whether consciously or unconsciously women artists do bring a feminist perspective to their work. But that perspective is more intimate and concerns areas and issues overlooked by their male peers - the home, the family, threats to society," he says.

"I would hazard that more than just feminist, which is important in the context of art practice, the approach of many women artists tends to be humanist. As for male counterparts in India, we have seen sensual representations of women by Raja Ravi Varma, Hemen Mazumdar, MV Dhurandhar, SG Thakar Singh and others - also known as palace artists at the time for their ability to combine realism with romanticism. Later modernists did paint the nude using distortion as a tool. It could be provocative, but the genre of the voyeuristic was well over," he adds.

Bringing back into focus concepts such as the pleasure of looking at something or someone with reference to the gazer and the gazed, the show explores the subtle distinctions in the ways the artists of both sexes create and experience art. Each work in this exhibition has been specially chosen for the dialogue it creates across history and represents the diversity represented by female and male artists.

From the landscape painting ‘Trees’ by Amrita Sher-Gil, which is being exhibited for the first time in India, the abstract works by Devayani Krishna, the extraordinary sculptures by Mrinalini Mukherjee, to the iconic works by MV Dhurandhar, George Keyt, MF Husain, Krishen Khanna, Akbar Padamsee,

Jogen Chowdhury or Bikash Bhattacharjee, this, according to Singh, is "one of the most exciting exhibitions of Indian modernism and represents a span that will impact art history conversations for a long time to come".

Just like the gaze was usually centred on a woman subject earlier, is an artist's muse also widely perceived as female? "I don’t think so. For so many artists, places are a muse. Just as Western artists have turned to Venice, many Indian modernists have looked to Banaras as a muse - Ram Kumar and Manu Parekh among them. Mythology and its interpretation from their individual perspective has been a subject for so many, and artists address issues concerned with poverty, gender disparity, environment - these can be their leit motif or, if you will, their muse," Singh says.

So are muses more a representative of their own cultural environment? And somehow, do viewers overlook this fact? "Viewers have a visceral reaction to art, which is why it keeps changing with the generations. It is natural that an older generation will react instinctively to the modernists, whereas contemporary generations have a natural understanding of art emerging from their own environment and reflecting their issues or concerns or their choice of mediums and materials," he adds.

Spanning 100 years of art practice with what women were creating as distinct from what men were creating is an uphill task. But the DAG research team manages to document it showing the path to modernity traversed by ground-breaking artists. Divided into parts, the first section features 26 women artists, while the second has 'Women as Muse', featuring 40 male artists.

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