French artist Prune Nourry asks some disturbing questions about female foeticide through her project

French artist Prune Nourry's endeavour ‘Holy Daughters' is a strong reminder of the constant blurring of lines between various disciplines. A theatrical piece at times uses elements of the audio-visual; a photograph in an exhibition elsewhere is accompanied by sound; or in an interactive installation the viewer is consciously made part of the art piece. Now, who creates it makes it even more interesting. A visual artist becomes a photographer. In another instance, he or she may take on the role of a stage performer, and so on.

The young artist, in this case, walks the line between art and activism with this project, which probes the issue of sex selective abortion in India. “Art is a way to raise questions and not give answers. For me, passionate about biology and sociology, it enables me to meet specialised people who can get me a lot of information,” explains Prune.

Drawing attention to the skewed sex ratio in the country, she explores the subject through ‘Holy Cow' sculptures, photographs, short films, sound and video installations. All these elements when put together on display later in France, London, and eventually in India will be called ‘Fertility'. For now, the artist held a talk in the city around the public performance she carried out in four different areas of the city. Prune had invited sociologist and IIT-Delhi professor Ravinder Kaur to the India Habitat Centre to talk on her work and the trend of terminating pregnancies after diagnosing the foetus' gender. Together with images of the interactive performance, a short film comprising interviews of obstetrician and gynaecologist Puneet Bedi, demographer Asish Bose and sociologist Ravinder Kaur, interspersed with the footage of an ultrasound and live delivery will also be shown. “I had to shoot two deliveries because the first time the father was so upset after knowing that his wife had delivered a girl that he asked me to destroy the tape even though I had the permission of his wife,” she says.

Central to this whole exercise is the sculpture that is a cross between a holy cow and a girl. Now, Prune has created two models — standing and squatting — in resin and bronze. While the bronze sculptures have been made for galleries, the resin ones are meant for street display. “Because bronze has a strong religious connotation, I decided to make bronze ones for the ‘temple of art', i.e., galleries,” clarifies the artist who studied wood sculpture at Ecole Boulle, the prestigious school of fine arts, crafts and applied arts in Paris.

As part of the project, the holy cow was taken to Nizamuddin East, Hauz Khas and JNU, among others, where it was placed at milk booths. As people gathered — some shocked, a few surprised and many amused at the figurine that is half cow and half girl — Prune in a bid to gauge their reactions asked them, “Who do you think it is, a girl or a cow?” and gradually moving on to more direct questions about sex selective abortion. “I didn't tell them I am an artist. I just asked them what they thought of it. Somebody remarked ‘It's bachhi (small girl) and bachchda (calf), which I found so interesting. Why I placed it in these so-called posh colonies is that through my research I found out that sex-selective abortion is a middle-class phenomenon as it is expensive,” says Prune. Reactions of the spectators will be made into a short film later. “We travelled by autorickshaw and cycle rickshaw and even wanted to take the sculpture in the Metro, but her size wouldn't allow her to go into the scanner,” the artist reveals.

The sculpture wears a noticeable expression on its face, with her hands on the belly that has udders on it. “Belly and udders are associated with fertility. Like the holy cow, who is a symbol of fertility, a girl too is going to be a mother some day, and that's where I connect them both. Both become pure in that sense, but this issue of purity is both positive and negative for a girl because when she goes out and ‘becomes impure', she brings shame to the family,” elaborates the artist, whose next step in the project would be shooting small girls splashing milk powder and liquid milk in a cow shelter in Munirka.