A Place In The Sun

Gallery Exhibition

A Place In The Sun

Women Artists From 20th Century India

New York: 15 March – 25 September 2022

Sunayani Devi picked up a paintbrush in 1905 when she was thirty years old while supervising her kitchen duties, self-taught, but with enough talent to attract the critical attention of Stella Kramrisch who organised an exhibition of her paintings in Germany in 1927. It was in her worthy footsteps that India’s women artists followed. Devayani Krishna was born five years after Sunayani Devi began painting; Amrita Sher-Gil already had a career in Paris by the time India’s first art school-trained woman artist, Ambika Dhurandhar, earned her diploma in Bombay. B. Prabha followed next, her work reflecting the realities of the marginalised in a piquant language. By the time Nasreen Mohamedi and Zarina Hashmi, both born a decade before Independence, established their careers, women were joining art schools in greater numbers, validating their practice not on the basis of their gender but on its context.

In the decades that followed, women artists began to rub shoulders with their male peers. While some sought to highlight feminist concerns in their work, others dealt with issues based on gender, class, marginalisation, environment et cetera in their own diverse ways; while still others stayed away from social and political critiquing to respond to folk, tantra or other aspects of art making. Many went on to create abstract art. By the end of the twentieth century, they were (almost) equal partners in fashioning a modern and contemporary discourse for Indian art.

DAG’s exhibition looks at a handful of such trailblazers who, each in her own way, has crafted a unique identity and practice, thereby contributing to the rich dialogue around the diversity in style, medium, material and context of India’s twentieth century art.

Only a handful of women artists are represented in this exhibition since a survey would be too encyclopaedic, but it does cover an interesting range—spanning the twentieth century, of course, but also indicative of the range and diversity of their interests: early abstract painting, for example, or the arduous regimen of making sculptures, often in trying circumstances at a time when women were discouraged from its pursuit; or even printmaking for reasons that were similar.

Each of these women artists has come up the difficult way, fighting prejudice and patriarchy, to find a well-deserved place in the sun.

'Women can also be creative in total isolation. I know excellent women artists who do original work without any response to speak of. Maybe they are used to lack of feedback. Maybe they are tougher.'

– Elaine de Kooning

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