Artists come together for a show to generate awareness about gender inequality

On the ground floor, wearing a long hair-piece, Anita Ratnam did a brilliant lec-dem on the pleasure, pain, history, mythology, shame and glory of hair, accompanied by melodious singing and muted drums. On the first floor Tritha Sinha and Ritika Singh of Space, a contemporary band, sang with uninhibited joy and gusto, mixing classical and hip-hop with sounds from Tibetan bowls. On the terrace was the Wall Of Solidarity where 76 plaque-like one-ft by one-ft paintings spoke eloquently of gender inequality using every conceivable artform — collage, stylised words, signals, canvas, cartoon, poetry. Closely written sentences starting with ‘I cannot do...’ each ending differently, news about men being gangraped — boundaries lay broken on the gender discussion.

Hard-hitting

On the walls on all floors are hard-hitting paintings — from both mainstream and the alternative underground. The black-and-white Telangana women by Shanti Brinda hints at feminism not being a western concept, not being confined to urban sophisticates. Baaraan Ijlal’s ‘Ketli And Banduq Singh’, where a woman sits brewing stuff constantly is a searing statement on women being denied reproductive rights. Artworks from names such as Anjolie Ela Menon, Arpana Caur, Balbir Krishan, Gauri Gill, Ram Rahman and Ivy Mondol force you to pause and wonder about gender issues.

In strategic corners stand women models, each with a message. One’s attention is drawn to Alex Davis’ famous STOP — an urban automative design. ‘Between The Altar And The Butcher’ (small altar, well-dressed woman, meat pieces hanging behind) was about the deification of women. ‘Painted And Dented And Ready’ was a model in a Manish Arora outfit symbolising an absurd male comment. Alex Davis’ metal art made a telling comment everywhere.

One moves through floors to get a hang on how art — all forms of it — can be a powerful tool to express angst. This is Resist.

Resist was conceptualised to give a platform to artists who weren’t in a position to demonstrate in the streets after the Delhi gang rape, says Myna Mukherjee, director, GalleryEngenderedSpace, and curator of the show.

She describes it as “temporal art intervention and protest illustrating conscience and dissent against gender-based violence and injustice”. At Resist, artists agitate through an exhibition or a wall of silence. Or performance art. They re-invent the gallery, create a broader sensory experience for the viewers, provoke reactions. “Empathy is impossible to achieve without a “live” element,” she says. Eventually, the viewers become part of the “live” installation.

Strong metaphor

The highlights were the performances during the show’s preview. Naming it Uproot, Anita spoke, danced, screamed, and created a world of ‘hair’ with a spider-web of prandis forming the backdrop.

“Hair grows from inside, defines class, gender, ideas, first impression; we enjoy it, despair over it,” she said, performing her moves. In a parade of characters, she created images of Rapunzel using her tresses to escape the witch’s tower; Kesava and his beautiful hair; Devi the fragrant-haired; Shiva with the Ganga in his dreadlocks; the veiled bride; the Kathakali dancer and his long straw hair; Boothana; Surpanaka, the possessed; Amman rolling her hair; Draupathi pulled by her hair to the court… Fast-forwarding her narrative, she talked of the veiled bride, of how women were forced to shave off hair as a form of male control, how haircare has been part of who we are since Spartan times, down to the obsession with Michelle Obama’s bangs.

“Space does musical creations for women’s empowerment,” said Tritha, playing a guitar and singing ‘Dilli Se Aaya Hum Dono Kolkatha wale’ with Ritika. Classically trained, she effortlessly straddled hip-hop and punk rock. “Express yourself, learn to deal with your freedom, live like a woman,” they sang, karaoke-style. English, Tamil, Hindi flowed together in their lyrics against forced arranged marriages, honour killing, female foeticide — ‘Zindagi Bithani Hai, Chidiya Uduna Jaane…’ — went the foot-tapping score, interspersed with yodelling, different pitches, smooth notes.

“Three local artists — Biswajit, Ilango and I — joined the art show to generate awareness about gender inequality and injustice to women,” says Shalini Biswajit, who brought the show to Chennai. “We want to show Chennai artists are one with engendered artists.”