An Indian Artist Explores Mata Hari’s Power Of Seduction Through An Enchanting Photo Story

An Indian Artist Explores Mata Hari’s Power Of Seduction Through An Enchanting Photo Story
Photograph by Aman Singh

Mata Hari was an exotic Dutch dancer and courtesan who was convicted of being a spy for Germany during World War 1.This was not a woman who had chosen to become a spy, but was rather driven into it by certain unforseen life circumstances. She was abandoned by her father at a tender age, two years after which she lost her mother as well. Left to herself in a world which is largely transactional in nature, Mata Hari felt marriage to a wealthy gentleman was the finest step she could take. She married Captain Rudolf MacLeod, an army officer in the Indies. She wanted to “live like a butterfly in the sun.”, but life had other plans. She was tortured and abused by her husband, and was later left to fend for herself and her daughter. The turning point in her life was the time when she decided to leave her daughter behind and reinvent herself as an exotic dancer. In 1905 Mata Hari—a Malay term for “sunrise” or the “eye of the day”—broke onto the social scene with a performance in the Musée Guimet, an Asian art museum in Paris. Mata Hari presented utterly novel dances in transparent, revealing costumes, a jewelled bra, and an extraordinary headpiece. Mata Hari’s costumes were scandalous for her time. She was able to skirt obscenity laws by claiming that her dances were based on Eastern temple rituals.

As a woman who did not adhere to the constricted notions of femininity, Mata Hari’s fate was anticipated. She was executed by a French firing squad for working as a German spy. Like most other strong women in history, Mata Hari has been stereotyped as a femme fatale who used her power of seduction to manipulate men. But if we look at her life story in detail, we would find that it is almost inhumane to do so. Akansha Singh, 20, has tried to cast aside the uni-dimensional narrative that is built around Mata Hari, and instead focused on Mata Hari as a bold woman who was able to cast off the slough of coyness that a woman was expected to possess. She has also subverted the concept of nudity in her photo story, turning it around as a taboo topic, to something that is normal and human.

We have asked her a few questions on the same.

Model posing as Mata Hari (Photograph by Aman Singh)

How do you handle discouragement in art ?

I do not let it get to me. I believe even if people do not appreciate your work, you should have the strength to go on, and strive to create something new at every point.

Can you describe your creative process and the purpose behind it?

My creative process is very experimental because I hate repeating or doing the same thing again and again. The purpose is always to come up with something artsy, but nevertheless something which has a concept and a story.

Model posing as Mata Hari (Photograph by Aman Singh)

Are there any Indian contemporaries of yours whose work you admire?

@lekharathnam, @tusharchoudry, @lucifer_1483, @indirajoshi

What is the first piece of art that impacted you deeply and why?

The movie “Independence Day” featuring Will Smith was a piece of art that impacted me deeply. I watched it for the first time when I was 8-9 years old. I was astonished that there are people out there who can makes stories on aliens and can execute it so well.

What is your plea to the Indian government?

I would request the government to create more jobs in order to ward off poverty.

Model posing as Mata Hari (Photograph by Aman Singh)

Which is your favourite piece of work of your own & why?

I think I’d go with Mata Hari because I think I pulled it off in style.

One track you’re currently listening to?

Slip by Elliot Moss

A project you wish you were a part of and why?

Once a photographer wanted an Indian-looking model for a photo shoot. I would have loved to be his muse.

Your favourite midnight munchies?

Snickers and blue lays

A bad habit you want to get rid off?

Spending too much time on my phone.

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