Choosing a career in the arts is still a challenge in most Indian families that continue to hold archaic views on what an ideal career path for their children should look like. Cut to today, the struggle to choose a profession in fine arts and follow your passion is still as real as it was years ago, yet there still seems to be only a very minor shift in the way in which we approach this conversation. Icons, legends and the maestros have come and gone and have left behind a legacy of the ‘road not taken’ behind and we still continue to hold on to these legacies as hopes for a future where a career in any field is normalised as long as passion and vigour fuels it.
In this regard, a visual artist back in 1931 broke one too many barriers. At a time and in a world where the field of arts and painting, in particular, was dominated by men, Ambika Dhurandhar became the first Indian woman to have graduated with a fine arts degree. While Indian women of that period were not allowed to dream of advanced education, Dhurandhar’s legacy broke the glass ceiling in more ways than one.
Born in Mumbai to a renowned artist, Ambika went on to follow her passion for painting and the arts from a very young age. Her father, M.V Dhurandar was an accomplished artist and professor at Mumbai’s J.J School of Art. Home-schooled for a significant part of her childhood, Ambika’s passion for painting remained active and alive through her explorations and experimentations with her father which ultimately led her to enrol in the same college for a course in painting.
Ambika went on to graduate as one of the highest-ranking students along with a government diploma in painting to speak for her body of work. There was an active presence of other women peers at the university but none that pursued art professionally. Dhurandhar’s artistic background which stayed alive right from her childhood her early adulthood, coupled with her family’s drastically varying approach towards breaking taboos and stereotypes were fuelling factors in her journey into becoming a professional artist. The journey also allowed Dhurandhar a brief yet prestigious stint at the Royal College of Arts in London in 1939.
Ambika’s portraits and oil paintings continue to be displayed at DAG across Delhi and Mumbai where the legacy of her work continues to live and inspire a new generation of visual artists embarking on a journey that more creative minds seem to be taking to.
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