Painting Our World: Women’s Messages through Art is a travelling exhibition organised as part of the second phase of the Poster Women project.
In the course of collecting the posters, we came across an unexpected treasure trove of artistic expression. These were the works of traditional and folk women artists from all over the country that carried, in one way or another, content that related to issues such as violence against women, dowry and HIV/AIDS. This exhibition is an attempt to document and showcase these traditional forms of expression that rural women have used to engage with social issues. These include various forms of traditional paintings, embroidery and other such visual media that exist in rural India.
It is by now common knowledge that women’s voices have been sidelined in the writings of history for centuries. Often, oral and visual traditions have reflected a less partial history than the written word. Crafts have always been a strong medium of expression and communication, especially for women. For generations, women have used this medium to tell their stories—through paintings, weaving and other such forms. In doing so they have countered the traditional role assigned to them and the stifling of their creative instincts that accompanies it.
Interestingly, the increasing involvement of rural or semi-urban poor women with progressive movements and organisations has led to an awareness of various social issues, and this is reflected in many of their artworks. For us, it is these forms of expression created and devised by women who are marginalised, often socially excluded (tribal and dalit women), that present the most exciting possibility of all. Issues ranging from livelihood rights, health awareness, communalism and violence, to marriage and domestic work, the exhibits are proof that the movement has touched the lives of more than just middle-class women.
The process of collecting these pieces of art has been for us both enriching and troubled. Though it was exciting to discover the extent to which progressive movements have touched the lives of rural women, we were disheartened to realise that this form of artistic communication is already dwindling. This is mainly owing to the lack of demand in the western and urban markets—which are the major markets for traditional Indian art— for artworks containing socially relevant messages. Motifs of plants and animals appear to hold more attraction in these markets, leading to more and more artists switching to this form of art due to economic imperatives.
The exhibits showcased include:
• Madhubani from Bihar
• Patachitra from West Bengal
• Contemporary Phad paintings from Rajasthan
• Appliqué embroidery from Orissa
• Jogi art from Gujarat
• Sujuni embroidery from Bihar
• Lambani embroidery from Karnataka
• Khovar paintings from Hazaribagh, Jharkhand
• Gond art from Madhya Pradesh
• Khatwa from Bihar
These have been curated with the help of writer and craft promoter Minhazz Majumdar.
The exhibition travelled to many parts of the country including Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Jaipur, Vadodara, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Shillong and Imphal.