Book captures everyday art by rural Indian women (With Images)

February 28th, 2009 - 5:52 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 28 (IANS) Pushpa is a sweeper at the international airport in Mumbai, sweating it out for eight hours a day to fend for her family of three. But when at home in a slum, the widow is an artist - she draws rice-flour “kalam”, or sacred designs to welcome guests, outside her home in a narrow alley near Santa Cruz.
Lalita, a Yadav housewife at Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan, is rooted to a culture where women have lived behind the veil for years. But she is bound to Pushpa by a thread of colours.

Creative expressions of art in their everyday life bind these women from the remote backwaters of the country together, said cultural anthropologist Stephen P. Huyler, whose new book, “Daughters of India: Art and Identity”, was unveiled in the capital Friday.

“I began a cross-cultural survey of the Indian people and their art as an avenue to understand them - not just their expression, but their minds and the reflections of society and environment,” Huyler told IANS.

The book is on the lives of 20 women artists from diverse corners of the country through photographs and accounts of their art and lifestyles on the fringes of urban society.

Huyler has been working for the last 37 years in cultural and artistic communities ranging from the rice paddies of far southern India to plantations in the Himalayas.

In his book, the anthropologist has documented the battles these women have waged against adversity to keep their arts alive. Each of the 20 “expressionists” differ in age, finances, social status, privilege, treatment and opportunities.

For instance, during festivals and celebrations, Lalita and the women of her extended family decorate the walls and floor of their mud and brick home with sacred designs of peacocks, dogs scratching their pelts for fleas, bullocks, lions, camel carts and even the motor scooter. She is now teaching her daughter Mina to paint.

Gani Devi from Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh paints motifs of lotus and the foot imprints of the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi; and her symbols - the lotus and the elephant - to welcome her daughter-in-law home.

Huyler’s first book on the subject, “Painted Prayers: Women’s Art in Village India”, had spurred the demand for the sequel, the anthropologist, who is also a writer and a photographer, said.

The new book, explained Huyler, was an attempt to remove the misinterpretation of women from South Asia, who are looked upon as victims of “violent social injustice” in Britain and the US.

“They receive inaccurate press. So I thought it was necessary to show other aspects of Asian women even though they are subjected to phenomenal injustice. There is a different form of creative expression in the women of India.

“Despite the fact that the country has a large body of male artists who are trained and belong to specific artistic traditions - especially in the urban space - far more women create art as part of their daily lives throughout the subcontinent. These women never consider themselves as artists and their underlying creative ethos is feminine,” Huyler said.

The anthropologist observed that rural and folk art in India by women possessed “immense diversity” and those who “expressed everyday never repeated a design”, unlike their male counterparts whose works often came forth as repetitive. “That’s a part of the male personality,” Huyler said.

The proceeds from the book (published by Mapin), priced at Rs.2,750, will go to the Global Funds for Women, the Self Employed Women’s Association and Folk Arts, Rajasthan.

-Indo-Asian News Service


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