In Tiruvannamalai, Gayatri Gamuz’s home and studio are in an organic farm where saplings are grown for reforestation in Arunachala. The village school is right opposite and everyday, she sees the children go by. “The girls wear pins in their hair and village women have heaps of flowers on their heads. I find it powerful how femininity is engaged in villages”, says Gamuz, who was taken in by the strength of women, doing chores at home and later working in the fields, their daughters in tow. Her collection, ‘It’s a Girl,’ recently exhibited at Artworld, came as an urgent response to the world around her.
Gamuz had been painting exhaustively in 2013, when she realised the pressure of having to constantly perform had taken over her life. She felt a need to stop and in that lapse of time felt liberated to conceive anew.
“Over a year these drawings came automatically through a very introspective process. In each of them, I found myself”, says Gamuz, who translated her studies into oil over eight months, a far more laborious process. In these expressive hyper-real portraits, Gamuz sees, observes and celebrates femininity and Nature.
Historically, women were portrayed to please the eye, but Gamuz’s are haunting and blunt in minimal compositions. She often uses the black dot to ward off the evil eye as a metaphorical element. She narrates, “A young woman who visited the show asked me – ‘how is it not a single girl is smiling in your paintings?’ And I said to her – ‘they are looking at the public, they want to tell you something. Women were always made to pose to be painted and exhibited. We, as women are painting another way’.”
A girl with a big hibiscus on her head pouts, a group of four gaze upward, another screams a silent cry of anguish and a baby swathed in a floral quilt sleeps blissfully. Like a seamstress quilting applique patterns, Gamuz embroiders her subjects out of floral prints. Through the filter of her Spanish gaze, Indian life emerges in creamy browns, pastel pinks and pistachio greens.
‘Imagine Frida’ is dedicated to radical Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. “The modern woman identifies more with masculinity,” points out Gamuz. “It fascinated me that Frida was very ethnic and showed the power of ethnicity with flowers. We need to bring back the power of being woman.”
Coming from Spain in 1991, Gamuz married Ananda and later changed her name to Gayatri from Inma. Surprisingly, in Tiruvannamalai the villagers never bothered about her. “They know I am there, this vellaikari , but they don’t care about what I am doing.” This relationship changed when Gamuz started photographing the girls for her studies. “Why? Why not me?” the boys demanded, pushing forward. “They were anxious that they were not in the picture!” Gamuz laughs. Later, on completion, she invited the children to come and see the works and they brought their relatives. “Super, akka , super!” they exclaimed. For Gamuz, who had exhibited only in city galleries, having a rural audience brought a revealing insight. “People relate to art forms not familiar to them. The power of art is universal.”
Gamuz finds that we are shaped by our cultural upbringing in our responses. “For us in Spain, bullfighting is very natural growing up. Only when you become adolescent, you realise, it is violent. It was such an incredible revelation to come to India and see animals everywhere.”
Gamuz also notes how boys in Spain are not allowed to cry. “It is important that boys are allowed to be feminine, to put aside a bit of the masculine. The world is male-dominated and we take it for granted.” Yet, Gamuz’s mentor in Spain is a man in his eighties. “The figure of Antonio Lopez is important to me”, she accepts, but continues to say, “The attitude of women has to change. Through many years of conditioning, we feel inferior.”
I ask her if she feels painting can change the way the world sees women and how women see themselves. “Paintings talk. They filter the life of people. Somehow painting is like a silent performer. It is there, speaking without words”, affirms Gamuz.