Contemporary Indian art addresses issues of feminism, gender and sexuality

“Tiger by the Tail! Women Artists of India Transforming Culture”
Oct. 2 – Dec. 14, 2007
Kniznick Gallery, Women’s Studies Research Center and
Mildred Lee Gallery, Rose Art Museum
Brandeis University

WALTHAM, Mass. – As Indian art breaks forth on the global scene, women artists are leading the way. This fall, the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University will host an exhibition of contemporary Indian art that challenges social oppression and gender discrimination, and provides new models for the empowerment of women.

Opening Tuesday, Oct. 2 and continuing through Friday, Dec. 14, “Tiger by the Tail! Women Artists of India Transforming Culture” features the provocative painting, sculpture, drawing, photography and video art of 17 established artists. Much of the work responds to ongoing patriarchal aggression and communal violence in India.

“India has emerged as a vital and formidable global presence. With this comes the meteoric rise of the country’s vanguard art practice and urban visual culture,” said Dr. Elinor Gadon, a resident scholar at the WSRC, recent recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for the Arts, and co-curator of the exhibit. “One of the most significant developments over the last 30 years has been the emerging prominence of self-conscious female artists willing to challenge social norms.”

The title of the exhibit, “Tiger by the Tail!” refers to Indian women who claim their agency and speak out, shining a spotlight on some of the most important issues for women in contemporary society, not just in India, but globally.

“The artworks are culturally specific and address the current and historical concerns within the Indian context,” said Roobina Karode, art critic and co-curator of the exhibit. “At the same time, they resonate with global concerns and introduce a woman’s subjectivity, which has been excluded from Indian art until now.”

The 35 pieces comprising “Tiger by the Tail!” are organized around universal narratives: Transforming the Myth; Subverting the Icon; Performing the Body; Issues of Identity; Memory and Loss; and Healing and Empowerment.

The exhibiting artists at the WSRC are: Navjot Altaf, Arpana Caur, Kanchan Chander, Sheba Chhachhi, Anju Dodiya, Anita Dube, Rummana Hussain, Nalini Malani, Pushpamala N. and Clare Arni, Gogi Saroj Pal, Shukla Sawant, Mithu Sen, Nilima Sheikh, Arpita Singh and Vasudha Thozhur. The video installations at the Rose Art Museum, coordinated by WSRC Resident Scholar Nancy Salzer, are works by Navjot Altaf, Shilpa Gupta and Sonia Khurana.

Gogi Saroj Pal subverts the icon of the tiger, which in India has long symbolized primal ferocity. In her painting “Hatyogini, Shakti,” a woman sits atop the wild animal, playfully domesticating it as if it were a household pet. A self-portrait, the painting transforms traditional Hindu iconography of the goddess Durga into an image that is both powerful and erotic.

Anita Dube presents a paradoxical motif in her black and white photographs “Sea Creature.” Four open hands are covered with the all-seeing eyes of the Hindu devotional practice. In her work, the small ceramic eye, traditionally offered to the goddess for protection, is subverted when employed in the secular domain. In this way, Dube transforms the sacred object into a marker of mindless religiosity.

Vasudha Thozhur’s “Untouchable” recalls the Hindu practice of sati, in which a widow commits suicide on her husband's funeral pyre. In her transgressive treatment of this patriarchal horror, Thozhur paints herself seated defiantly on a burning pile of wood, inviolable and untouched by the flames.

“Tiger by the Tail!” also draws attention to the fact that feminism is not monolithic. “For example, feminism in the United States has focused largely on equality for the individual – equal rights, equal opportunity and equal pay,” said Dr. Shulamit Reinharz, the Jacob S. Potofsky Professor of Sociology and director of the WSRC. “Feminism in India is focused primarily on the social good.”

“Tiger by the Tail!” will include an International Symposium on Tuesday, Oct. 2 and Wednesday, Oct. 3, coordinated by WSRC Visiting Scholar Rajashree Ghosh. Artists, curators and other scholars from India will engage in informal conversation.

“Greater Boston museums have played a significant role in introducing and promoting Indian art to the American public,” said Wendy Tarlow Kaplan, curator for the Kniznick Gallery and co-curator of “Tiger by the Tail!” “The Brandeis exhibition builds upon that scholarship by showcasing the feminist contribution to contemporary Indian art, which focuses on transforming Indian culture for gender justice.”

“Tiger by the Tail!” will also be on view at Rutgers University from Jan. 15 – July 31, 2008.

A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition with essays written by feminist scholars from India and the United States.

High-resolution images and a list of the works in the exhibition are available upon request.

Related Events:
International Symposium
Tues., Oct. 2, 2007, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Wed., Oct 3, 2007, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Shapiro Campus Center Theater

Opening Reception
Tues. Oct. 2, 2007
5:30 p.m.
Women’s Studies Research Center

Gallery Talk with Elinor Gadon
Sat., Oct. 6, 2007
2-3 p.m.
Rose Art Museum

Women Filmmakers from India Film Series
Thursday, October 11 at 7:30 p.m., Nilita Vachani's "Eyes of Stone" (1990)
Thursday, October 18 at 7:30 p.m., Ligy J. Pullappally's "Sancharram" (2004)
Thursday, October 25 at 7:30 p.m., Shonali Bose's "Amu" (2005)
Women’s Studies Research Center
Coordinated by Prof. Harleen Singh

Symposium on Asian Sexualities
Tues., Nov. 6, 2007
12 p.m., Rose Art Museum
2 p.m., Women’s Studies Research Center

Trip to Northern India
Jan. 31 – Feb. 14, 2008
Open to all.

For additional information about events related to the exhibit, visit the WSRC website.

Kniznick Gallery:
Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University
515 South St., Waltham, Mass. (across from Brandeis/Roberts commuter rail stop)
Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Weekends by appointment, call 781-736-8102
Free admission.

Mildred Lee Gallery:
Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University
415 South St., Waltham, Mass.
Tuesday – Sunday, 12-5 p.m.
General admission: $3.
Rose members, members of the Brandeis community and children under 12 are admitted free.

About the Exhibition Curators
ELINOR GADON is a cultural historian and resident scholar at the WSRC. Her research and publication focuses on the empowerment of women, the visual arts and the culture of India. She was the founder and director of the graduate program in women’s spirituality at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Her many publications include “The Once and Future Goddess: A Symbol for Our Time” (Harper San Francisco, 1989), a visual chronicle of the sacred female from prehistory to the present. She is currently writing “From Blood to Fire: The Changing Culture of the Village Goddess in Orissa,” a socio-cultural analysis of the village goddess in India based on five seasons of fieldwork in Orissa.

WENDY TARLOW KAPLAN was trained at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and has worked as an art curator in the greater Boston area for more than 30 years, specializing in contemporary art. She has served on the Collections Committees of the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park and the Fuller Craft Museum, written for Art New England, the Encyclopedia of New England Art, and juried regional art exhibitions. She recently co-curated an international traveling exhibition, “From the Kilns of Denmark: Contemporary Danish Ceramics,” which included a scholarly catalogue. She serves as curator for the Kniznick Gallery of the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University.

ROOBINA KARODE is an art critic, art educator and curator with post-graduate specializations in art history, education and psychology from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India. She has lectured extensively on contemporary Indian art in India, the United States, Japan and South Korea, and written monographic and thematic catalogues on contemporary Indian artists. Karode is currently writing monographs on the seminal works of artist/feminist Gogi Saroj Pal and on Rameshwar Broota. A recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship in 2000, Karode was invited to the Women’s Leadership Institute at Mills College, California. For the past three years, she has been a Ford Foundation teaching fellow at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Arts & Aesthetics, New Delhi. Karode lives and works in Delhi.

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