south-indian-art

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Fine Arts students from Oglala Lakota College recently put on an Art Show at the Suzie Cappa Art Center in Rapid City, SD. The concept of the show is Misconceptions of the Reservation. Each artist demonstrates their interpretation of this in their own art forms. These photos by Angel White Eyes are of people from the Pine Ridge Reservation who overcome the statistics and break the mold of preconceived notions of people living on Pine Ridge. The show will be up until the end of July.

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Close Distance by Jannatul Mawa

In the simple yet stunning photographs of Jannatul Mawa, a woman-activist photographer from Bangladesh brings together shared affinities of two different women belonging to different worlds of caste, class and sometimes religion, yet bound by the patriarchal notions of being a ‘woman’ and their defined relationship to ‘domestic space’. Interestingly, these photographs also raise a specific set of questions pertaining to female identity and its marginalisation within patriarchal societies. For example, does labour performed by women within domestic spaces have any economic value? How, over a period of time within patriarchal societies sexualised division of labour has become ‘naturalised’ and confined women’s labour to domestic and private spaces? How caste is entangled with sexual division of labour within domestic domains?

In Jannatul Mawa’s series ‘close distance’, we as viewers for the first time witness maids sharing space with their women employers within the same frames. Such contrasting images point towards the unequal power relationship subjects share with each other, their interdependency and their power negotiations in their everyday encounters. Through the body language of subjects, this power relationship not only gets communicated within the photographs but also refers to the patriarchal forces at work in shaping the ‘identity’ of these women with which they perceive themselves and their roles in the patriarchal society in which they exist.  In a contemporary society such as ours ours, even if working, educated and upper caste women get replaced by lower caste women for lowly waged demeaning domestic labour but still household work, cooking and nurturing remains largely the concerns and ‘skills’ of the ‘women’ especially among the middle and lower class strata. Governing or labouring within domestic spaces by women points towards the ‘naturalisation’  of sexual division of labour comfortably practiced in our society. No wonder, when it comes to ‘professional skills’ of cooking in professional kitchens or environment in the corporate hotel industry, chefs turn out be largely men with heavy salaries and perks.

Being a ‘maid’ or ‘domestic servants’ in middle class homes of counties like India, Bangladesh or Pakistan, means providing cheap labour without fixed working hours, salary and leave structure. As pointed out by Nivedita Menon, domestic labourers or work in south Asian countries bear the brunt of both feudal hierarchy and capitalist exploitation. In the first all-India survey of non-unionised female sex workers conducted recently, seventy one percent of women said they had moved voluntarily to sex work after having found other kinds of work to be more arduous and ill-paid. The largest category of prior work was that of domestic workers. In other words, a large number of women in the sample had found being a domestic servant to be more demeaning, exhausting and ill-paid than sex work[1].  By bringing visibility to maids along with their woman employees in ‘close distance’, Jannataul Mawa brings forth the entanglements of caste, economy, patriarchy and women subjugation within it, which has kept patriarchal forces intact in our society over the decades.

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Indo-Islamic Poster Art [x]

Among various forms of popular art found in India’s public spaces, an important category is the religious posters and calendars depicting deities, saints, and places of worship. Besides posters that deal with recognizable Hindu subject matter, one finds images with Muslim themes, typically portraying the shrines at Mecca and Medina, Quranic verses in calligraphy, the portraits of local Sufi saints, their tombs, miracles, and other folklore. Since a poster or calendar is frequently meant to decorate the walls of a home, its imagery is always bright and attractive - young women or children shown as embodiments of perfect innocence and beauty and a pious character.

Descriptions, left to right, top to bottom:

Picture 1: [x]

Poster showing a Muslim woman praying before icons of Mecca and Medina in an alcove. 

Artist: Kareem, publisher J B Khana, Chennai, circa 1990

Picture 2: [x]

An elder sister teaches her brother to learn to read the Qur’an – a common image used in homes with children.

Artist: unknown, Publisher: JB Khanna & Co., date: circa 2000 

Picture 3: [x]

Muslim boy in Turkish cap. This kind of cap with a hairy tail on the top, clearly of Turkish origin, was in vogue among the Muslim elite until the middle of 20th century. Shrines of Mecca and Medina in the backdrop

Artist: H.R.Raja, Publisher: unknown, date: circa 1990

Picture 4: [x]

A chubby Muslim boy praying. The cap and dress are always well-embroidered

Artist: unknown, Publisher: unknown, date: circa 1990

Picture 5: [x]

Allah-o-Akbar (The God is great). The little mu’azzin – a Muslim baby calling out for prayers, wearing an Arab’s headscarf – an ideal image to condition children towards an “Arab” identity.

Artist: unknown, Publisher: JB Khanna & Co., date: circa 2000

Picture 6: [x]

A Muslim boy reading Qur’an. The mature body features of the little boy make him look like a miniature version of a fully grown “Muslim” man. One can see a building like Lucknow'sImambara (Shia shrine) at the back.

Artist: unknown, Publisher: Brijbasi, date: circa 1990

Picture 7:  [x]

Ya Ghaus-e Azam: a woman pays her homage to the shrine of Saint Abdul Qadir Jilani in Baghdad (Iraq) who is considered in high esteem by all Sufis in South Asia. The devotee wears typically north Indian dress while the saint’s miracles (of saving a drowning boat and others) are seen in the backdrop. It rare to see an Indian poster showing the persona of a saint.

Artist: unknown, Publisher: Brijbasi, date: circa 1990

Picture 8: [x]

A praying Muslim lady, who looks like the actress Waheeda Rehman, has a swelling tear about to fall from her eye. Notice her rather dull and homely dress unlike the flashy tones one usually finds in posters – even the mosque in the background is in monochrome.

Artist: Syed Arts, Original painting, circa 1970

Picture 9: [x]

A praying Muslim woman with the Qur’an – gilded with shiny golden paint to make the image look more decorative and consecrated.

Artist: unknown, Publisher: unknown, date: circa 1990

Picture 10: [x]
Muslim boy in green. Part of a larger poster with the images of Mecca, Medina and the Qur’an, the cuteness and softness of little boys keeps getting better in the newer posters Artist: unknown, Publisher: JB Khanna & Co., date: 2005

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One Night in NY (2003-2005) - Indian Artist JAISHRI ABICHANDANI

A series of photographs taken at night parties thrown by Sholay Productions, which is a production company in NYC that seeks to create safe and comfortable spaces for Queer South Asians. All images are shot by a Contax point and shoot camera with long exposure on film, with no digital manipulation. I thought of introducing this set of photographs first because they highlight Jaishri’s early beginnings in the arts, which is photography, but also speak about an issue (I personally can relate to) that is very important and recurring in the rest of her work, which is the availability of safe spaces for different groups of queers of color to exhibit and share their collective identity in the manner they see representative and in accordance with their own individual identities. 

View the rest of the series on Jaishri’s official website.