A closer home look at Indian art makes some revelations that makes me never want to look at these artists again. Mohini, the playful and seductive sringar of radha , on a swing, hair left loose. Or mohini playing the taanpura with love and wait in her eyes . raja ravi varma at his best perhaps , painting women , generally modestly clad[save for a few semi naked ones]in the art of beckoning , seducing, waiting for their loved one. One could argue that he was the court painter of prince of baroda and though a little bit of erotica never hurt anyone least / last of all Indian princes ,[madhubani art for instance but that’s another debate] the truth remains he could/ would not make a statement through his paintings. Largely criticized for not being Indian due to his love for very rococo esque colour scheme [ light and shadow , twilight , dusk et al] one look at his themes and paintings puts to rest any further doubts. He further reinstates that when in love Indian women deck up, wait for their lover tirelessly, seduce , doing all things feminine. While the men are bound by no such rules in matters of the heart.
I would dare not call him a modern painter simply because he borrowed heavily from the madhubani miniatures , radha kishan as a dominant theme and portraits of queens and princesses in their parlour , being served by ladies in the waiting [ never a slave in sight lest the queens charact be questioned] , so his painting for his period of time was rather regressive.
M. F Hussain on the other hand has been very bold in making a statement or putting a controversial one on canvas. His collection on Indira Gandhi inspired by a statement made during emergency.[ Indira Gandhi : the only man in the cabinet]. Cut to partho dutta , touted by some dailies to be Picasso in the making, who invariably symbolizes strength , power as male bastions and portrays women in the act of day to domestic chores , gossiping or as accompanying their husbands. His paintings of Benaras ghats rarely have women taking a dip in the ganges alongside the sages [ which is not an unusual sight]. He paints crowds as largely comprising of men. Anjolie Ela Menon being a self proclaimed feminist all her work is looked upon in a feminist light , her portrayal of women and phallic symbols [ that generate a lot of furore due to the sheer sensation/ scandal quotient]does deserve the attention it gets not because it is sensational but because it for the first time looks upon women not just as desired but desiring as well. This equality in our Indian society is quite an utopia.
Beauty is defined by exclusivity , in times of famine beauty is plump and a symbol of abundance a la botticelli , michaelangelo . in times of abundance it is waif thin a symbol of abstinence may be . maybe not. While we sell beauty in jars and bottles and wispy clothes the artists sold it in the female form , sensual but constrained by the society.
The elusive feminine mystique and beauty are
Why must good always be juxtaposed by evil [isn’t that done to death]. But some existential thought prods me to think that if there is no evil how would you define good. Then good is nothing but absence of evil. Thus for something to be evil or ugly it should share the same space/existence with the the beautiful or good. That’s exactly what Manet did in Olympia by putting a Negro slave woman next to the beckoning Olympia he gave her an added beauty of colour , form and the unmistakable body language. Till date our society and the media defines beauty by whats ugly . beauty is waif thin, fair and ugly is fat and dark .
A particular cosmetic brand uses coloured models with their white counterparts. The afro American models serve to make the White Americans look gorgeous .