Signatures of a Collective Self: A Study of Select Contemporary Women Artists from South India

By Daniel, Lakshmi Priya | Journal of International Women's Studies, November 2016 | Go to article overview

Signatures of a Collective Self: A Study of Select Contemporary Women Artists from South India


Daniel, Lakshmi Priya, Journal of International Women's Studies


Introduction

India has long remained a nation in which past and present enmesh to create a culture which at best is a shimmering mosaic and at worst a fragile mirage. In India the divide between the north and South is also an intangible reality which pervades almost every field and aspects of everyday life. The arena of art history ascribes to this cultural and social divide only in a linear, disjointed manner. When the idea of a modern nation was born with independence being wrested in 1947 and freedom being valued highly, artistic practice too reflected the transition from a monarchic affiliation to liberated thinking. However, patriarchal constructs ensured that women were not acknowledged as inheritors of an artistic tradition. Women artists who emerged in new India were far and few between and often succumbed to a secondary status to that of their male counterparts.

If this was the situation at a national level, in the Southern region of India which remained insulated from the rest of the nation to a certain extent, the art scenario was even more markedly differentiated with women artists largely remaining ignored and invisible within India and by the global art world. This article attempts to reclaim the status of women artists of South India by a process of recovery and inclusion. The aspect of their marginalisation from mainstream art and subsequent disappearance from the annals of Indian art history has been examined. Further, the reasons for this disappearance are investigated in terms of the overarching notion of gender, embedded in social and cultural parameters. The article locates the manner in which these women artists are affected by familial, institutional and social systems and explores the experiences of the women artists in terms of their multiple roles. This can lead to an understanding of the negotiated spaces of private and public domains, which form the paradigms of art practice and are crucial to the expression of women artists.

The critique seeks to register the presence of women artists in South India (which is comprised of four states, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala) from the twentieth century and their contributions. It essentially offers insights into the roles played by the artists and their status not only in terms of gender but also culture and identity and examines the transformations achieved by women artists in South India over the years and the position they occupy. Though Indian Art has grown in international stature and has gained a global visibility today, women artists remain underrepresented in many areas such as major curated shows, international expositions, triennales, and wards of international, national and regional prizes and scholarships. At the national level, South India--the erstwhile Madras presidency continues to register minimally in the mainstream of modern Indian art. The study observes how the women artists' existence in the art world has largely been shown as secondary to that of their male counterparts and that their expressions were not considered 'good enough' to be included in mainstream art. It relates the manner in which the woman artist links herself to her gender through her art to evaluate whether it is done consciously or unconsciously and scrutinizes the extent to which women artists use feminine symbols, through analyses of their art and aesthetics. It also probes into the ways in which women artists deal with their subject matter, especially the depiction of the female figure whatever be the medium of exploration. Further enquires are made into whether women artists share a common platform in terms of their expression and if so, what binds them together.

The word 'artist' appears gendered in art history always alluding to the male and the prefix woman and therefore, was accorded to the few who managed to mark their presence. The art done by women has been repositioned by not just women and feminists, but also by their male counterparts. …

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