The Great Divide
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A video opens with a newspaper item about a bizarre case of a watchman being arrested after the discovery that 'he' is, in fact, a woman. The article reports that the impersonator — the chowkidar's wife — couldn't afford the loss of pay after her husband's death and therefore stepped into his shoes. Though she did the job dutifully, even helped nab thieves, she was forced to leave. The article dissolves into a stop-motion video of Nalini Malani's paintings that depict the story of the woman and the liability that her gender was to her. The fictional story is by German writer Bertolt Brecht, but Malani's Indian contextualisation is perhaps the perfect summary of her latest exhibition at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Byculla.
Through three such stop-motion videos and 42 prints of paintings from her own book, Listening to the Shades, Malani discusses the bias that women continue to face in society. To do so, Malani's book delves into Greek mythology with the story of Cassandra, Princess of Troy. Cassandra was given the gift of prophecy by Apollo, in an attempt to seduce her. When she refused him, he placed a curse upon her — she would foresee the future, but no one would ever believe her. "Every woman has Cassandra's gift — the female instinct. Unfortunately we live in a patriarchal society that not just crushes this instinct but feels threatened by its very existence," says Malani.
On display at Sakshi Gallery, Colaba, Rekha Rodwittiya's work echoes similar sentiments. However, the artist's approach to exploring the prevalent gender biases derives from her own life. Her show, Matters of the Heart, has huge, imposing canvases where she uses life-sized forms of women with her own photographs from her early years placed on them. "By infusing my current work with my past photographs, I wish to examine the feminine space of survival," says Rodwittiya. Through pictures of her sister and herself, studio photos of the family posing together and some images taken during family vacations, Rodwittiya examines the privileges she enjoyed while growing up, and attempts to ask whether such liberties are denied to women today.