Smriti Dixit’s Savage Flowers: as red as freedom

Smriti Dixit’s new exhibition, ‘Savage Flowers’, tackles patriarchy, female choice, and a threatened environment

February 25, 2022 07:51 pm | Updated 07:51 pm IST

‘Seed’ and ‘Declaration’

‘Seed’ and ‘Declaration’ | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

When I met Smriti Dixit last year, she told me with a conspiratorial smile, “I am working on a show and it’s going to be quite different.” How different, I wondered, as Dixit, 50, always works with difficult and unexpected mediums that bring diverse meanings to her installations. I still remember her blood red Hibiscus River at the Goa Serendipity Arts Festival in 2018, in the section curated by Ranjit Hoskote. One’s senses were ‘overcome’ by the primeval, magnified bloodshot globules descending from the ceiling — referencing the female menstrual cycle.

Her latest solo at Art Musings, titled Savage Flowers, presents sculptures woven from cloth and plastic price tags — everyday found, made, recycled and upcycled materials, encoded with her interpretations. “I titled the exhibition ‘Savage Flowers’ to honour the untameable spirit of Smriti’s work,” says curator Nancy Adajania. “She had told me, with twinkling eyes, ‘Nancy, if a certain janglipan [wildness] doesn’t show in my work, I feel uncomfortable!’ And the wildness here is that unfettered and transgressive energy of women who defy domestication — who, metaphorically, run with wolves. That is what this exhibition pulsates with.”

Smriti Dixit

Smriti Dixit | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Breaking taboos

A 2019 news article about women’s uteruses being removed without their knowledge or consent so they did not have to take maternity leave (in Beed, Maharashtra) inspired Dixit to start the project. The 2018 Sabarimala case, where women of menstruating age protested the ban to enter the temple and a court lifted it, was another starting point. “It is the patriarchal system that wants to control women and shame them for their strongest factor,” says Dixit.

At the gallery, her works sprawl on the floor, hang from the ceiling, and climb up walls. The Garden of Guilt and Pleasure is an ensemble of wall hangings densely woven out of plastic tags — divesting its commercial function, the tags become mulch, creepers and dirt-covered root vegetables. Another piece, Declaration, is a textile sculpture of the uterus, made with vermilion red cotton and nylon.

‘Garden of Guilt and Pleasure’

‘Garden of Guilt and Pleasure’ | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“What draws me to Smriti’s work is its unruly, shapeshifting character,” says Adajania. “I wanted the exhibition scenography to reflect a sense of continuous growth and proliferation, which is a distinctive feature of her sculpture installations.”

Knit, weave, repeat

Hand work plays a key role in Savage Flowers. Dixit, who has used both knitting and weaving techniques in the project, worked with women from her neighbourhood in Kandivali. “It captures their body rhythm and unique energy, and it breaks the monotony of machine-made products,” says the artist. 


‘Longing’ | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

This was another facet Adajania wanted to highlight. “I wanted viewers to experience the differential flows of time with which Smriti invests her work. She works for months together, repetitively and obsessively, to make a single work. It is her way of acknowledging undervalued domestic labour, and it is also a form of japa [chant] meant to invoke the generative energies of the universe. So the exhibition is conceived as a set of environments that the viewer can immerse herself in, environments in which to lurk, explore and linger,” she concludes.

Savage Flowers is on till March 10, at Art Musings, Mumbai.

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