While women have been the subject of many a masterpiece, prized and adorned on the walls of prestigious museums and galleries across the world, the progress made in the representation, as well as the recognition of women as 'the artist' rather than 'the muse', has, to this day, been slow-paced. Although it may seem strange that the archetypal concept of gender disparity makes its presence felt in a community that is seemingly so liberal and open in its ethos, the reality is that it's much the same as any other industry and widely prevalent.
The origins of the lack of gender equity within the artistic community can be traced back to the fact that women weren't allowed to enter artistic professions or receive training until 1870. However, with that said, it's hard to understand why more than a century later women are still fighting against being type-casted as second fiddle to their male counterparts. Theories about the cause of this disparity within the artistic community have ranged from cultural biases in the interpretation of art, the disproportioned diversity of curators, collectors, and gallerists as well as the common 'isms' that plague women in any field they call their dominion.
However today, with the foundation laid by women before us, women artists have begun to take the art world by storm, commanding respect, recognition as well as a place of their own. Nigerian-born, visual artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby captured this sentiment beautifully when she said, "You don't exist if you're not represented. I felt a need to claim my social existence by making the representation happen."
This bold new stance for women in art has created a wave of transformation with its effect echoing across the world.
In India, women have been on the receiving end of countless persecutions, and stigmas for centuries, all in the name of culture and tradition. However, over time a brave few have taken up alms, with the paintbrush as their weapon of choice, to raise awareness and in that awareness incite change. To India's women artists, art has served as a recluse and a megaphone; it provides an outlet to express their struggle as well as to draw attention to the plight of India's women as well as the societal pressures that are placed on our shoulders. From paintings and sculptures to installations, these artists have made their presence felt and have done so since pre-independence. And while all may not have experienced commercial acclaim in their lifetime they certainly have attained critical acclaim.
Perhaps one of the most prolific of these canvas matriarchs is Amrita Sher-Gill who, in her hauntingly soul-searching self-portraits highlighted the culture as well as the despair of rural India; earning her the title of India's Frida Kahlo. Contemporary artist and Padma Shri recipient Anjolie Ela Menon is another, who, in one of her most renowned works 'Shabnam' explored the hidden emotions and sensuality of women. Rekha Rodwittiya is yet another contemporary artist, who through her series of nude paintings, depicted the female form in a resolute and powerful disposition, showcasing the strength of a woman. Knowingly or unknowingly all these incredible artists along with their collections and creations have helped pave the way for a generation of artists who are unabashed in their creations as well as their meaning.
Take Goa-based visual illustrator Arunima Bose, who in her interactive installation titled 'In Full Bloom: Playing with Pleasure' wanted to normalize female sexuality. Illustrator and installation artist Shilo Shiv Suleman combines art and technology to create work that aims to drive social change. She's even founded the Fearless Collective, which is a coalition of 400 Indian artists, who use art as a medium to protest against gender violence.
American abstract expressionist painter, Grace Hartigan once said, "A work of art is the trace of a magnificent struggle." and as you browse through the pages of history, you will begin to understand that women have not just fought and persevered to be heard, but have triumphed against all odds. It is no wonder then that as you go deeper into the relationship women have had with art, you will notice that their endeavor isn't merely to create aesthetic value, but to provoke change through every brushstroke.
Whether, as a muse, subject, or creator; standing on the shoulders of exceptional women before us the duo of women and art is perhaps the most enigmatic relationship that has taken more than a century to evolve. And with current generations taking on the mantle of challenging the status quo and pushing the boundaries of our representation and our place in this world, the future holds a multitude of opportunities, exciting adventures, and gender as well as era-defining movements.
(Gunjan Shrivastava, is a Professional Artist, Educator, Art Critic, and Co-founder of 'You Lead India' Foundation) (AA/IANS)