Review by Georgina Maddox
February 26, 2013


Curated by Myna Mukherjee
February 2-20, 2013
Gallery Engendered SPACE, New Delhi

A woman lies spread out on a bed dressed in an elaborate gown, her hair done up in a coiffure, her lips painted red and her gaze unwavering. Above her hang what appears to be shanks of meat. Off to the right in a small room a video plays reddening the walls with close-ups of ‘blood cells’, tissue and ‘meat’.  On the left a burnt wall supports an empty wooden altar indicating that the Devi has left the building!

Titled Between the Altar and the Butcher: Meat, this is one of the five live installations that were part of ‘Resist’, a temporal art intervention hosted at the Engendered Space and curated by Myna Mukherjee, the director of the New York-based arts and human rights organisation that now has a Delhi chapter.

Part boudoir part slaughter house, Between the Altar… incises and shocks the viewer leaving one wrestling with feelings of provocation, shame and a bit of titillation as you process the multiple metaphors that bounce off each other. The carcases are in fact soft sculptures made of latex, jute and beads and are created by artist Puneet Kaushik; the model is resplendent in a dress created by designers Gauri and Nainika. The coming together of the two bring out how women are either sexualised and consumed as meat, or defied and sanitized as Devis.

Another live installation that combines street graffiti by Daku, and an acrobatic act by a young performer from the Shadipur Collective dressed in an urban chic churidar-kurta by Anju Modi. Titled Toeing the Line it comments on the balancing act that women perform through life. “It’s one thing to see a picture of a woman balancing on a tight rope – it’s another to see her actually perched precariously on the rope and walk that tight line,” says Mukherjee who conceived the live installation.

 Resist invited some of New Delhi’s most well-known artists to illustrate conscience and dissent against gender based violence and injustice through performance, graffiti, site specific installations, new media, protest music and fashion. This comes at a time when activists and the average, phlegmatic Delhi youth are raising its voice in slogans that vary from death sentence demands to fast track courts for rape cases.

“We wanted to challenge and re-invent the gallery environment and create a broader sensory experience where the audience would become an integrated part of the 'live' installation, most importantly we wanted the art work to generate 'empathy'.” says Mukherjee

Effectively cutting through generations and genres, it showcased ‘ideals of womanhood’ held by artists who belong to a generation where the onus to protect and nurture the fairer sex lay with its men—as propounded by artist Anjolie Ela Menon— to a more contemporary understanding of femininity where an artist like Mithu Sen’s subversive graffiti declares she does not want to be viewed as a ‘woman artist’.  “Art, when it leaves the studio of its creator, has no gender and my works certainly have been subverting the idea of gender being a fixed identity,” says Sen.

Sen’s graffiti was offset by another live performance—Girl Uninterrupted a tableaux of three women dressed in Manish Arora, Satya Paul and Tarun Tahiliani, standing before the graffiti and engaging with the gaze, male or otherwise. In between these two extreme ideologies Arpana Caur’s large canvas, titled ‘Stepping Out’ comments on what happens to women when they cross the so called Laxman Rekha. “I’ve been painting about the violence wrought on women’s bodies since the 1980s and I am sad to say that not much has changed since then,” says Caur.

Sculptor Alex Davis’s automative paint on steel sculpture series inspired by truck art titled 'Dented and Painted’ had been aptly positioned by the curator to pun and counterpoint the absurdist and insulting statement recently made by the President’s son. “We wanted fashionable women who would own their bodies, desires and flamboyantly celebrate them to stand before the work,” says Mukherjee. Adil Khan’s sculptures of exploding torsos were offset against Arjun Saluja and Urvashi Kaur’s outfits that emphasised androgyny. 

Along with the works that grab attention are quieter expressions: like Satyakam Saha’s LED sculptures that create an illusion of a trap with a body being dragged into it and another magnified drop of blood juxtaposed near a termite infested wall. Ritu Kamath’s sensitive pen, ink and charcoal drawings are pages from her diary that intimately speak about personal pain in a manner that is heart wrenchingly graphic. Balbir Krishan’s visual expression of the transgressive myth of Hari Hara is sublime and beautiful, while Bani Pershad’s canvases embody through colour and form the angst of being a woman in a male dominated world. 

Posters art by Gigi Scaria, RAQS Media Collective and graphic designer Anil Bakshi foregrounded male hypocrisy, while Ram Rahman’s poster documented the testimonies of women in Naroda Patia in Gujarat. Bronze sculptures by Durga Kainthola take a poke at the chastity belt, while Saba Hasan’s diptych combines Urdu text, nails and an earthy palette to comment on “we wicked women”.  The evening ended on a high as young talented bands like Delhi Head Quarters, solo artist Alicia Bahtt and Space, a Trip Hop and electric Baul band, comprising Tritha Sinha, Ritika Singh and Paul Schneiter brought down the house with spirited rendition of empowering music.

What was really exciting about the live installations and the exhibition is that despite being a temporal experience to be enjoyed in the moment, it left a lasting impact. It was not a dated expression of dense feminist theory that one often sees hurled at viewers through stiffly mounted exhibitions. The mix of popular culture, fashion art and performance made it a living breathing entity to be reckoned with.  Arguably it could have gone horribly wrong and ended up as an incoherent mishmash; however it was held together with a strong curatorial premise, where Mukherjee displayed clarity of vision that knitted together the different strands of this complex tapestry.