Sneak Peek At 13 Indian Artists' Work Being Exhibited At 'Girls Only' Today

Sneak Peek At 13 Indian Artists' Work Being Exhibited At 'Girls Only' Today

India’s art is as diverse as its culture and traditions, and the artistic voices that represent it. Yet, a large portion of these voices are often lost in the patriarchy of Indian society. In an attempt to change that, Antonia Marsh’s transatlantic art collective Girls Only aims to create a platform for female artists, and it’s making its way to Mumbai this weekend. Girls Only is an international residency and studio program which Marsh takes around the world. The property has already created a interactive global community of artists that get a chance to exchange ideas, knowledge and skills, and provides necessary attention to art forms that people may not even know exist.

Diversifying the playing field with a variety of female artists, each masters of their respective crafts, the exhibition has an incredible line-up of illustrators, photographers, textiles, installations, performance pieces and so much more that you’re not going to want to miss this. We got the opportunity to catch up with some of the artists that are a part of this two-day showcase at Ministry of New to talk about their exhibitions and discuss the necessity of a platform exclusively for female artists in India. Scroll on for the voices of 12 immensely talented women, each artists in their own right.

[Please Note: The artists have been presented alphabetically in no order of preference.]

I. Aqui Thami

On the importance of girls-only platforms

Girls Only as an art platform is a big deal. It’s not a secret that there are fewer opportunities for female artists, so it’s wonderful to see how Antonia and Sarah have worked to create this ingenious show in Bombay and brought together such brilliant minds for one show. It is not very often we get to see works of professional women photographers alongside photographs taken by adolescent girls from Dharavi, or fabric art installations alongside posters from the street; this is truly an enormous opportunity for women artist to come together and form a community. All the women in this show are exceptionally talented and in the fast-pace world of art, this is a colossal moment to reflect on the expertise and virtuosity of female artists that go unnoticed otherwise.”

What she’s bringing to the show

“For the show on the 15th I am sharing posters from a series called ‘Poster Girls’ which I started as a response to harassment of women in public spaces. Street art is considered by some to be a natural expression exercising a collective right over the city, and by others, it is seen as a destructive attack upon an otherwise clean and orderly society. What is interesting to see is how people respond to street art that addresses street harassment in a city that is considered to be fairly safe for women, and when harassment is not spoken about in hushed tones but instead, with posters that demand attention from any passerby. The idea is to build solidarity among women, as often when one is assaulted, one of the first thoughts that occur is ‘why me?’. Marking places where I have been harassed has been immensely cathartic. Therefore, to encourage more action, I’ll be giving away stickers in the show too. For the male onlookers, these posters deconstruct the imagined idea of public spaces that they consider safe and take for granted.”

courtesy of Aqui Thami

On the importance of girls-only platforms

“Art Room utilizes the medium of art to empower children and women of marginalised communities. We believe that exploring, expressing and exchanging ideas through art creates confidence and stimulates personal growth. Art Room promotes a unique and fun participatory approach which enables the community to take control of their lives. It’s nice to see that Girls Only was open to voices like ours which are so important, yet so misrepresented.”

What they’re bringing to the show

“At the show we have thirty photographs taken by six girls from our Dharavi art room. These were the result of a ten-day workshop with them, conceptualised primarily by Aqui Thami, where they explored their surroundings, people and spaces, and their own lives as girls growing up in Dharavi. They’re all regulars at the Art Room.”

Photographs taken by Ayesha

On the importance of girls-only platforms

“A girls-only art platform is very important for India. It gives them the freedom to express themselves and the confidence to showcase their works collectively.”

What she’s bringing to the show

“I will be showcasing three works of art, ‘Virtually Real, Real Really Virtually?’ ‘Self Defence’ and ‘Little Wings Are More Than Enough!’The first one is an interactive artwork of edible images and ceramic plates. It consists of a variety of delicacies printed on edible paper with edible ink. Viewers are supposed to select one piece and consume it. For example, there is a macaroon which looks real, but it isn’t. One can experience consuming it but that experience will not be similar to eating a real macaroon. The question this work brings up is—is virtual or social media life (personal image) more important than real life?‘Self Defence’ is a photographic representation of a site-specific installation consisting of live milkweed plants and a painted grasshopper (poekilocerus pictus) nymph on it. Painted grasshopper nymphs feed on milkweed leaves and consume their toxic milky latex sap. This sap helps them develop a defensive secretion to fight against predators. I wonder if we could develop a similar self-defence against the evils women face in society today.‘Little Wings Are More Than Enough!’ is an installation consisting of various different elements and objects, such as an image of Muniya in the cage, insect wings, medicines, feathers, coloured synthetic pearls, hands with bangles, and so on. A little hope is enough to go on and pursue your dreams.”

Virtually Real Really Virtual, courtesy of Atita Taware

On the importance of girls-only platforms

“I think any ‘girls only’ platform is really important in India for obvious reasons of women being underrepresented in most walks of life. As for a girls-only art platform, I think it will really help give a new and louder voice to the already existing community of women in the arts. As for me, I’m a skater and that is my art form. If I hadn’t received support for being a less privileged entity in the skate community, I would not be in the place I am now. So it’s truly important to me to emphasize on the successes and evolution of the work women do.”

What they’re bringing to the show

“Skating is not just a sport or a lifestyle, it involves thought processes similar to that of any artist... to create and perform in your individual style. Skateboarding also coexists with many different mediums of art. I have painted skateboards for auctions, taken analogue photographs of my journeys through skateboarding as well as built skate-able obstacles and parks. On April 15, my exhibition will comprise photographs and show a film on my latest project The Girl Skate India Tour, which is about women from nine different countries on a road trip to spread the femme skate spirit to the rest of India, with free workshops for local girls, the building of a skate obstacle, skate yoga demos and of course, skateboarding!”

Atita Verghese photographed by Filip JedraSzak

On the importance of girls-only platforms

“I’m so honoured to be a part of Girls Only here in India. It gives women an amazing opportunity to have a voice with their artwork and express both historic and modern perspectives. In a nation that is famous for its beautiful craft and spirituality, Girls Only gives women of today a new dimension to show creativity and make a statement about women, and not just in India, but universally in cultures where perhaps women haven’t had the same freedom as their male counterparts.”

What she’s bringing to the show

“For a month I have been travelling through Rajasthan making a new piece of work. The piece is inspired by Draupadi, the owner of a never ending sari, an empowered woman and goddess from Hindu mythology. Using the dimensions of a typical sari, the drawing has been made using ink made from saffron and rose water, made on the move through Rajasthan. The journey of the work through India is an intense physical movement and the nature of the pattern, whether drawn in the cool hours of sunrise or scorching heat of the afternoon, represents the hardship of our heroine.

This piece forms another part of a larger body of work titled ‘Penelope,’ which celebrates the relationship between woman and fabric, those that wrap the body in life and death and the mythology behind the women who own them. Their stories throughout comparative literature have a universal importance, pervading history and our understanding of the heroine.”

Draupadi by Becky Allen

On the importance of girls-only platforms

“As a woman artist, I am interested in movements of Feminism and its branch of Ecofeminism, questioning the status-quo of women in society, and also the relations of women and ecology.

I am drawn to the conceptual framework of the Girls Only exhibition which investigates the imbalance of the representation of women in exhibitions, galleries and the wider art system. It is also an opportunity to exhibit with established and young woman artists working in contemporary mediums, through the curator’s attention to cultural exchange. The show will also travel to London, which is exciting!”

What she’s bringing to the show

“For this show, I will be performing in the space using skin as a metaphor for experiencing the world. In this performance, I am working on ideas of physical and psychological healing through several natural materials that we find in our cultures, and my body is central in this experience.”

'Sewed Inside' courtesy of Jinal Sangoi

On the importance of girls-only platforms
Girls Only has created a voice for female artists in several countries. Its presence in India is even more exciting, perhaps because it’s a country where gender equality is contrasting and disparate. India is changing before the eyes of its people, and I hope that Girls Only fuels the movement of female equality that is already going from strength to strength.”
What she’s bringing to the show
”My body of work is based on the Hindi word ‘Moshka.’ Moksha in Hinduism is the transcendent state of a soul, attained as a result of being liberated from the cycle of death and rebirth. My work represents the soul’s journey into a higher plain. Universally, humankind fears death. But these paintings celebrate the shedding of the human skin and the birth of the soul.
The fluidity of the inks mixed with water reflect the the body’s transient journey. As these inchoate forms dwindle into nothingness, they lose their burden of form and evaporate to release the soul.”

Image courtesy of Julianna Byrne

On the importance of girls-only platforms

“It’s frustrating that we still have to identify work with the gender of the artist, a topic of discussion which clearly identifies a need for more of these spaces. Platforms like Girls Only will help people become aware and celebrate talented girls doing their thing. It feels like Indian youth cultures are well on their way to carving more of these spaces and opening up to celebrate great work, regardless of gender. This show is on that path and it’s exciting that girls from around the world now have another place to find each other through this type of curation!”
What they’re bringing to the show
“These lady portraits share the spirit of the Ladies Only train compartment and the visual mashup of characters, textiles, textures and colours that we see and imagine. This is the first time we are bringing to life some of our mixed media ideas, a combination of illustrations, graphics, and digital print on silk with embroidered details. We had a lot of fun creating this work and it feels like we are discovering the birth of new mediums to play with!”

Image courtesy of NorBlack NorWhite

On the importance of girls-only platforms



“I think a women-only exhibition can be quite interesting. I know that in the 80s it had been tried in India by some fantastic female artists. They really struggled to put the show together, as it was almost unheard of at the time. Now, things are easier for female artists. However, I think in the times that we live in, importance should be given to the female gaze. Politically, for me, it is the need of the hour.”
What she’s bringing to the show”I will be showing a video work called ‘The Last Mango Before the Monsoon.’ I like to work with stories and folklore that collapse into each other. This work is an elliptical narrative. In one narrative, two technicians from the forest department walk through a forest, setting up cameras to document animal activities in the night. The cameras’ heat sensitive detection allows them to capture images of the animals. Somewhere else, a woman has moved away from a forest a long time ago. She yearns for her dead husband who is also the forest. Her desires are manifested in her dreams that are triggered off by the last mango of the season.”

payal

On the importance of girls-only platforms

“I think the Girls Only platform manages to create a network amongst artist communities all over the world for a free-flowing exchange of ideas and experiences, with Indian female artists finally getting their due! With the Museum of Modern Art opening a retrospective show of Nasreen Mohamedi and  the Centre Georges Pompidou opening a Nalini Malaini show next year, I feel like this step will only add to women artists getting more attention internationally.

On the other hand, I do feel like there are far more serious issues to worry about, like the basic right to speak and discuss within our institutions that has been muted, which seems to emerge from a patriarchal mindset. I hope this platform enables us to highlight these issues globally.”

What she’s bringing to the show

“The work I’m showcasing was exhibited at the Experimenter gallery in Kolkata in 2012. It is a series of photographs that I have shot in the inside of a refrigerator. My work attempts to address the space between the personal and the political. The space inside the refrigerator has fascinated me for a while now, like a capsuled space where temperatures are controlled. The work speaks of the genetically modified seed.”

Image courtesy of Prajakta Potnis

On the importance of girls-only platforms

“A platform dedicated to women is as necessary in India as anywhere else in the world. I guess the fact that Antonia’s first ‘Girls Only’ exhibition was in the UK proves that this is a common thought.”

What she’s bringing to the show

“The body of work I am exhibiting is a collection of  black-and-white analogue images I have been making over the last decade. I will put up about 100 images of the people and places I have connected with on the wall; there will also be an installation on display with 8 mm footage I shot in Myanmar in 2013.”

Image courtesy of Shreya Dev Dube

On the importance of girls-only platforms

“Representation through a given platform is empowering, encouraging and adds to the diversity of ‘representations’ in the country. This kind of grouping allows for renewed dialogue, unique juxtapositions and an opportunity for ‘the least likely to come together’, to project one voice. I enjoy the lighthearted kitschy connotation to ‘Ladies Only’, a very Asian signage that offers reassuring comfort when one is looking at salons, beauty parlours, tailors, massage centres, toilets, and so on–all spaces where a female body is at its most vulnerable.”

What she’s bringing to the show

“I am presenting two drawings titled ‘Wilma’ and ‘Rita.’ Wilma and Rita are sneezing due to excessive pollen in their perfumed handkerchiefs. Wilma and Rita have been named after the hurricanes that have caused immense damage. Along with the drawings, I am showing ten soft-clay heads titled, ‘Messrs.’”

Rita by Vidha Saumya

On the importance of girls-only platforms

“I was active among photographers before my three-year recess from India (2011-2015), and there were some very talented fellow female photographers, who have been absorbed by managerial and curatorial projects over the years. They work for all the men in the field, and men exposing their vulnerabilities (a female character in normative gender roles) are being famed. What could have possibly made them have careers like these men do, as photographers, as authors and producers of artwork?

I am usually against gender exclusive spaces and have even put together exhibitions that critique women-exclusive shows. But in India, as I observe the systematic omission of women artists over time, and even the subject areas they speak about, I do think it is important for us to see art in India in a women-only show. What is also important to me is that it includes young artists, letting everyone know that maybe some people who we repeatedly consider are no more contemporary.”

What she’s bringing to the show

“’Speak Evil’ is satire produced by picking news stories that present episodes which attack women and queer identities in the most absurd ways. I use several metaphors for different politics at intersections in these episodes. On the 15th, I will start off with an R&B song by changing the lyrics and pretending to be the protagonist to humour the misogyny in it; and refer to other recent news items including the ‘Naxalite Test’, in which Adivasi women are made to present breast milk as evidence to prove they are not Naxalites. I appear as a Zebra, it has been an alter-ego for four years now, it acknowledges multiplicity within bodies.”

'She is used to it', from the project 'Speak Evil.' Image courtesy of Vidisha Saini

Also showcasing their work at the Girls Only exhibition are Nishita Jha and Poulomi Basu.

Catch the exhibition on April 15 and 16 at the Ministry of New. For more information about the event you can visit the Girls Only:India Facebook page.

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