New Delhi, March 5: The rules are changing for women when it comes to the complexities, profundities and experimentation with life and art.
The movement to free arts from the folds of gender-sensitivity, which began in the early 20th century, has gathered grist post-globalisation. Today, women have taken over arts and culture, ringing in emancipation of thought, concept and creative expression; breaking into contentious subjects like sexuality, equality, alternative identities and social justice to tackle them head on.
The number of all-women shows dedicated to gender-related themes to co-incide with the International Women's Day March 8 has touched a record high this year.
"I think the most important change in the last two decades is the multi-pronged approach that women have adopted towards art. Women have been making inroads into new genres of aesthetic practises and have a voice of their own which is very individual with own stories to narrate," arts impresario, writer and curator Ina Puri told IANS.
Artist Subodh Gupta and wife Bharti Kher best captured the spirit of equality, Puri pointed out.
"Bharti has gone to places with her new style of work (the artist uses 'bindi' as her medium). It is perhaps one of the most powerful Indian feminine voices today," she said.
Dayanita Singh's "Mona, the transgendered protagonist" of her photographic essays about the lives of eunuchs was yet another example of looking at alternative groups on the social fringe from a woman's point of view, Puri said.
Puri's argument sounds logical as the country has turned its spotlight on artist Amrita Sher-Gil, the feminist pioneer in modern Indian art, on her birth centenrary this year. Sher-Gil, who brought western sensibilities to Indian art with her European training in the 1920s-1930s, stormed through the early aesthetic conservatism with her body of nude studies.
Women in art has always been acceptable because it "fits a man's bill perfectly", says curator Babita Gupta, who manages the Art Spice Gallery at the Metropolitan Hotel in the capital.
But the docile woman artist pottering around home with paints and canvas has moved on to conquer the entrepreneurial space in arts, Gupta said.
"Nearly 90 percent of the art gallery owners in the country are women, who can transact deals with ease and negotiate prices. The most important factor powering this new acceptability is the fact that art is a luxury - and it suits a woman's refined ethos. Art is a woman's freedom of expression at every level," Gupta told IANS.
The most striking feature in the evolution of women's role in the contemporary culture of India is the spurt in big-ticket names, said publisher and writer Urvashi Butalia, the founder of the Zubaan niche publishing house.
"Even 10-15 years ago, you wouldn't have heard of names if experimental artists like Nalini Malani, Nilima Shiekh and Bharti Kher. The path has opened up for them. The environment to grow is hospitable. People are also reading women's writing and are being directly influenced by women's movement. There is some connect somewhere that has kept the issue of the women's movement on the agenda. You can't make it disappear," Butalia told IANS.
In fact, issues that seemed marginal before are now taking centre-stage, thanks to the open outlook to gender and equality in the arts, she said.
Veteran dancer and culture promoter Shobha Deepak Singh, director of the Delhi-based Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, has unfurled her new artistic avatar as a photographer in a solo exhibition, "Dancescapes" with 70 works.
"Nothing is impossible. I have been a photographer for the last 20-25 years. It became a serious hobby in 1991," the choreographer, who always keeps a camera handy, said.
Singh, known for her annual mythological dance ballets from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, said: "The biggest change in the cultural space for women has been their coming out of the confines of home."
"Women from good families are now allowed to take up performance arts as vocations," Singh said. The dance theatre exponent has been re-interpreting "women characters like Sita and Draupadi in her ballets to give them individual voice".
In cinema too, women are a driving force both in front and behind the camera, said documentary film-maker Anupama Srinivasan. The director of Asian Women's Film Festival organised by the International Association of Women in Radio and Television, Srinivasan said "in the last decade more women have been making documentary movies".
"Women are not only making films, but are managing the film trade as well. For example, Gargi Sen of Magic Lantern films has been runnning a succesful distribution network. The voice of the new woman in arts is now more assured," Srinivasan told IANS.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)