PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Tradition, Trauma, Transformation: Representations of Women, opening Saturday, March 26, 2011, at the David Winton Bell Gallery, features the work of three leading contemporary artists: Nalini Malani, Nilima Sheikh, and Chitra Ganesh. The exhibition and an opening reception on Friday, April 8, 2011, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., are open to the public without charge
Indian and Indian-American, their work is influenced by political, religious, and cultural situations, as well as by personal relationships, involving sexuality and the position of women. Through their works — large-scale paintings and drawings and provocative and challenging videos — viewers gain an understanding of the traditional and traumatic experiences of women that have given shape to a transforming society in India, especially with respect to gender roles.
Although schooled in modernism while studying painting at the University of Baroda in the 1960s, Nilima Sheikh (b. 1945) developed an interest in the history and traditions of pre-modern Indian art. She explored the miniature style of painting by visiting and watching miniaturists paint, and from them she learned to make her own materials, brushes and ground colors.
Sheikh’s contribution to the exhibition is Shamiana (1996), a series of six hanging scrolls evoking a ceremonial tent. Ceremonial tents were a major part of Mughal and Rajput court culture, as well as temporary living quarters for nomads and refugees. They are used to host outdoor marriages, feasts, and parties, thus symbolizing movement and dislocation as well as home. Painted on primed calico cloth to the point of saturation with casein tempera, the double-sided scrolls depict scenes of everyday life drawn from legend, literature, and life.
Nalini Malani (b. 1946) offers works animated by the traumatic days that led to and followed the immediate partition of India. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, her own status as a refugee in newly independent India plays a role in her use of complex symbols of identity. Often representing women and children in an oppressive socio-political space, Malani uses defacement and erasure, both symbolic of violence, to comment on the position of women in India society. The exhibition includes two video works. Memory: Record/Erase (1996) tells the story of a widow who pretends to be a man in order to gain employment. Unity in Diversity (2003) speaks to the contradiction between the professed unity of postcolonial India and the brutality and violence of contemporary communal riots.
As the youngest artist in the show, Chitra Ganesh (b. 1975, a 1996 Brown graduate) represents the growing Indian diaspora in the West. Her bold narratives, characterized by psychedelic color and a comic-book aesthetic, identify with her cultural roots, while also exploring memories, sexuality and personal relationships. Ganesh will create a site-specific wall drawing in the lobby of List Art Center, which will be hung with three works from her Melancolia series. In Melancolia, as is other recent works, Ganesh references the Amar Chitra Katha, a popular Indian comic series that focuses on religious and mythological narratives.
A fusion of multi- and cross-cultural lives and styles, the show encourages its audience to look beyond the surface and to reconsider India, her values and identity. The exhibition is curated by Mallica Kumbera Landrus and Jo-Ann Conklin.
The David Winton Bell Gallery, located on the first floor of List Art Center, 64 College St., is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 401-863-2932.