Exhibition portrays facets of women in Indian popular art

New Delhi, Aug 2 Want to see how women can be provocative, trendy and empowered at the same time through popular art? Visit the ongoing exhibition here, showing them in all their incarnations in various media.

Saturday, August 02, 2008   |  Copyright: IANS  |  Comments 0 Comments  |  797 Views

New Delhi, Aug 2 (IANS) Want to see how women can be provocative, trendy and empowered at the same time through popular art? Visit the ongoing exhibition here, showing them in all their incarnations in various media.

The genre of popular art, a form of alternative art, is relatively new, but it is fast carving a niche for itself.

It can be anything - right from memorabilia and miniatures to the collector's hobby art - like personal collections of stamps, postcards, coins, textiles, prints and posters, to name a few.

An exhibition, Kya Baat Hai (Empowered women remake), at the Travancore Art Gallery in the capital, is showing the myriad faces of women in Indian alternative or popular art. Women in different 'avatars' (roles) as wives, mothers, goddesses, girlfriends, bubbling Bollywood oomph girls, soap queens, nudes and pin-ups on memorabilia - all find a place on the show in an assortment of visual mediums.

The exhibition is racy, raunchy and profound at the same time.

The exhibits comprise nearly 250 cinema posters, lobby cards, lithographs, oleographs, regional miniature paintings, prints, hand-painted photographs, old sepia images and memorabilia art of vintage cigarette case and match box insert cards, Bollywood lobby cards, nude art and postcards.

The five-day exhibition that opened Friday is more of an awareness building exercise than a platform for commerce.

'People still don't know what alternative art is all about,' curator Siddhartha Tagore, owner of the capital-based Art Konsult Gallery, told IANS.

'I am organising this show for the third time so that people learn to appreciate art other than traditional paintings,' said Tagore. The last two shows were held in 1998 and 2001. All the exhibits have been sourced from Tagore's personal collection.

For the Bollywood buff, the show is a treat. Old sepia still photographs of black and white classics and lobby cards - mounted on simple black frames - are throwbacks to the era when sets and costumes were grand and the tales epic. The frames are full of action, songs, dance, romance, battles and drama.

Those were the days when mistresses of high drama like Bina Rai, Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Chandralekha, Nirupa Roy, Mala Sinha and Vyjayanthimala ruled the box office and the hearts of leading men.

Bollywood or cinema art, said the curator, was loaded with interesting nuggets. 'How many of us know that movie posters of yesteryears had limited print runs and were circulated only in the metros? The smaller towns were given the designs and asked to replicate it. As printing was difficult, most of it was crude art work in the provincial cities,' said Tagore, who has been collecting movie memorabilia for nearly 18 years.

Consequently, an old poster of 'Jewel Thief' has black slits for Dev Anand's eyes.

'I bought first edition posters of Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen movies for just Re.1. They were very cheap those days. But over the last 10 years, the demand for alternative art has grown and movie memorabilia are now sold in auctions,' Tagore said.

None of the art works, barring a series of vintage oleographs (prints) of Raja Ravi Verma's women printed in the artist's press, is on sale. The oleographs are priced around Rs.100,000 each.

The show throws up several gems. A small section is devoted to cigarette packet and match-box insert girls of the British Raj, Mughal queens and Indian nautch girls or the 'baizees'. A series of nude frames, mostly of women, are set in a bedroom ambience - with a peephole as a window for viewers to take a peek at the naughty frames.

The 'pat' paintings of goddesses and their consorts from Kalighat, Maharashtra, the tribal states, the glass paintings from Lucknow and Thanjavur and old Bourne & Shepherd photographs frayed at the edges document the history and the diverse legions of the country's women power down the ages.

The simple letter prints of women and the calendar 'sex bombs' from the south are of antique value - rarely found even in archives.

The exhibition, said Tagore, was inspired by a book, 'Keya Both Meye', by late Nikhil Sarkar. 'What is popular today is both fashionable, trendy and widely accepted. I have tried to bridge the gap between yesterday's popular genres and today's kitsch. It is a gap redefined in the cultural context between the elite and the popular, rich and the poor, art and craft,' Tagore explained.

According to Tagore, the print culture of the 19th century British India and its contribution towards formation of gender ideologies cannot be overlooked. 'The second half of the century witnessed a definite cultural focus on the Indian woman,' Tagore said.

The exhibition ends Wednesday.


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