Tradition, Trauma, Transformation: Representations of Women features the work of three leading contemporary artists: Nalini Malani, Nilima Sheikh and Chitra Ganesh. Indian and Indian-American, their works are influenced by political, religious, and cultural situations, as well as personal relationships, involving sexuality and the position of women. Through their works a viewer gains an understanding of the traditional and traumatic experiences of women that have given shape to a transforming society especially with respect to gender roles.
Focusing on representations of women, the show explores contemporary India with stunning large-scale paintings and drawings, and provocative and challenging videos. The world has always had an interest in India, whether directed towards its 5000 years of rich visual culture, or its rapidly growing population of over a billion people. Of late there is much global interest in India as a sophisticated and dynamic economic world power. Indeed, today India also holds attention in the area of contemporary art. Addressing issues such as economics, politics, religion, society, culture, gender, sexuality, violence, identity, and urban and rural issues, contemporary artists offer a personal view of a traditional yet modern Indian society.
Nilima Sheikh (b. 1945) engages with and reinvents Indian traditions. Schooled in modernism, Sheikh went on to study miniature painting and uses these techniques in her large-scale and lyrical paintings. Her contribution to the exhibition is a series of six hanging scrolls entitled Shamiana. Shamaiana (ceremonial tents) were a major part of Mughal and Rajput court culture, as well as temporary living quarters for nomads and refugees. They are used to host outdoor marriages, feasts, parties, etc. Thus the tent symbolizes movement and dislocation, as well as ceremonies such as weddings conducted within its space, as well as home.
Painted on primed calico cloth to the point of saturation with casein tempera, the double-sided scrolls depict scenes of life and love drawn from legend, literature, and life.
Nalini Malani (b. 1946) is a prolific artist of incredible energy and power. Malani’s works demonstrate the deep affect of the traumatic days that led to and followed the immediate Partition of India. Born in Karachi (Pakistan), her own status as a refugee in newly independent India plays a role in her use of complex symbols of identity. Equally renown for paintings and video installations, Malani consistently focuses on women, from the iconic Mother India and mythological Cassandra, to the lives of contemporary women who have been subjected to violence and oppression. The exhibition includes two of her single channel videos: Memory: Record/Erase and Unity in Diversity (an installation).
As the youngest artist in the show, Chitra Ganesh (b. 1975; Brown Alum 1996) represents the growing Indian diaspora in the West. Her bold narratives—characterized by complex iconography and psychedelic colors—draw reference from the West (the art of Albrecht Durer and Hieronymus Bosch) and the East (notably the Indian comic book Amar Chitra Katha). Nourished by two cultures, her works do not involve dichotomies such as past versus present, or India versus North America, but rather explore a personal space where memory, dreams, and fantasy blend together. Ganesh will create a site-specific wall drawing in the lobby of the List Art Center, and will show three large digital prints from her Melancolia series.