Panel Examines Gender and Art in South Asia

October 16, 2008

For a panel yesterday at the Women’s Studies Research Center called "Gender and Art in South Asia," participants detailed the difficulties experienced by women artists in the region.

Panelists included musician Shubha Mudgal, in residency for MusicUnitesUS, who was joined by Rajashree Ghosh (Resident Scholar, Women’s Studies Research Center), Ulka Anjaria (Assistant Professor, English and American Literature), and Harleen Singh (Co-Chair, South Asian Studies Program, Women's and Gender Studies Program, and the German, Russian, and Asian Languages and Literature department).

Mudgal described the social stigma of female musicians in India, with some daughters of women musicians who refused to acknowledge their mothers and fabricate stories about their parentage. Yet, she said, some of the most influential and greatest male musicians were trained by women musicians.

Singh said that art in South Asia, especially dance and music, is largely identified as a male skill. Women’s involvement with the arts was limited to domestic scenes: lullabies, songs while women were cooking or working in the fields. Women were seen as repositories of culture and practitioners of high art, but never the owner of their art.

Mudgal and musicians Aneesh Pradhan, tabla; Sudhir Nayak, harmonium; and Murad Ali, sarangi, also performed a brief musical piece, written before India achieved its independence as a British colony, which expresses the power of the oppressed.

“From a living tradition extending back thousands of years, Shubha Mudgal’s richly textured voice takes the listener on a musical journey that draws inspiration from medieval Sufi poetry, romantic love, and the paradoxes of modern life,” reads the description of the MusicUnitesUs Intercultural Residency Series at Brandeis University.

The panel was cosponsored by the Center along with the Women’s Studies Research Center, and the Women and Gender Studies Department.