Cyborgs and goddesses: Indian and Australian artists reframe femininity – picture feast

A group show of works by female artists from India and Australia redesigned femininity for the 21st century woman.

From 10 April to 18 May 2013, Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, mounted “Mythopoetic: Women artists from Australia and India”, an exhibition showing works from 15 female artists. The show debated notions of femininity in traditional myth and popular culture.

Sonia Khurana, 'Flower Carrier III', 2006, installation view of single channel video, 10 mins looped. Image courtesy the artist and Carl Warner.

Sonia Khurana, ‘Flower Carrier III’, 2006, installation view, single-channel video, 10 min., looped. Image courtesy the artist and Carl Warner.

Mythopoeia

Staged across three galleries within Griffith University’s Queensland College of Art, “Mythopoetic: Women artists from Australia and India” took both its title and its curatorial direction from the term “mythopoeia”, the act of myth-making. In a 2012 article for Art Monthly Australia about the exhibition “Re-Picturing the Feminine: New Hybrid Realities in the Artworld – A Survey of Indian and Australian Contemporary Female Artists”, curator Marnie Dean explains that she was influenced by feminist theorist Donna Haraway‘s essay “A Cyborg Manifesto“. Referring to the theorist’s declaration that she would “rather be a Cyborg than a Goddess,” Dean states that last year’s exhibition aimed to present a multifaceted perspective on femininity, rather than the traditional binary view.

Female artists are developing unique and sophisticated oeuvres with visual languages that embrace pop culture and are, collectively, re-writing or creating new mythologies.

This notion is also reflected in “Mythopoetic”, which “surveys the way in which artists are re-picturing, re-contextualising, re-imagining the feminine” and, according to the exhibition press release, explores “the permeable boundaries of binary classifications of gender.”

Pat Hoffie, 'Ideology and Artefact #2', 2012, installation viewsilk, plastic, Fimo, cardboard. Image courtesy the artist and Carl Warner.

Pat Hoffie, ‘Ideology and Artefact #2’, 2012, installation view, silk,
plastic, Fimo, cardboard. Image courtesy the artist and Carl Warner.

“Mythopoetic” artists

The exhibition comprised the work of some of India’s foremost contemporary female artists working today, as well as their Australian counterparts. Included in “Mythopoetic” were works by:

Kate Beynon, ' Trans-Mythic Woman Warrior Series', 2012. Image courtesy the artist and Carl Warner.

Kate Beynon, ‘ Trans-Mythic Woman Warrior Series’, 2012, acrylic and Swarovski crystals on canvas, diam. 40.5 cm each. Image courtesy the artist and Carl Warner.

Simone Eisler, 'Field', 2007. Image courtesy the artist, Spiro Grace Art Rooms & Gallerysmith.

Simone Eisler, ‘Field’, 2007. Image courtesy the artist, Spiro
Grace Art Rooms & Gallerysmith.

Questioning the status quo

ARTINFO selects a video work by Pushpamala N., Indrajaala/Seduction, as a highlight of the show. In the short film the artist plays the role of Surpanakha, the demoness from the Ramayana whose passion causes conflict between two brothers. Indrajaala/Seduction is part of the series Avega – The Passion shown in 2012 at Nature Morte, New Delhi. Quoted in ARTINFO, Pushpamala N. clarifies the questioning stance of her series:

The Ramayana is seen as the national epic and the rule of Rama – Ramarajya – is seen as the ideal governance, invoked by Gandhi during the nationalist struggle and now used by Hindu fundamentalists. ‘The Passion’ takes a sideways look at the place of women in this ideal state.

From left to right: Dhruvi Acharya, 'Mumbai City', 2009. Mandy Ridley, 'Sometimes I feel my heart will burst', 2012. Kate Beynon, 'Trans-mythic Woman Warrior Series', 2012. All images courtesy the artists.

From left to right: Dhruvi Acharya, ‘Mumbai City’, 2009. Mandy Ridley, ‘Sometimes I feel my heart will burst’, 2012. Kate Beynon, ‘Trans-mythic Woman Warrior Series’, 2012. All images courtesy the artists.

Left to right: Sonia Khurana, 'Lying Down on the Ground: Additional Notes', 2009. Fiona Hall, '21st Century Man', 2011. All images courtesy the artists.

Left to right: Sonia Khurana, ‘Lying Down on the Ground: Additional Notes’, 2009.
Fiona Hall, ’21st Century Man’, 2011. All images courtesy the artists.

Goddesses? 

The exhibition’s curatorial statement highlighted works which, although created by artists from realities as diverse as South Asia and Asia-Pacific, deal with universal feminine archetypes and borrow myths from different cultures. Australian new media artist Di Ball used the Hindu goddess Kali to examine individual identity, and Kate Beynon, also Australian, used Ancient Greek mythology to challenge preconceptions about femininity.

Di Ball, 'BinDi Ball is deeply superficial', 2012, single-channel digital video, oracular, 15 min., looped. Image courtesy the artist and Carl Warner.

Di Ball, ‘BinDi Ball is deeply superficial’, 2012, single-channel digital video, oracular, 15 min., looped. Image courtesy the artist and Carl Warner.

Natural women

In an artist’s statement on her website, Mandy Ridley noted the importance of the body to her work for “Mythopoetic”, describing the idea of the body as “very present” during the creation of her multimedia landscape Sometimes I feel my heart will burst (2012). Indian multimedia artist Sonia Khurana explored the idea of the artist’s body as a landscape through an installation that combined video and performance.

Left to right: Sangeeta Sandrasegar, ‘Take away that monster/That face that makes men stone, whoever she is’,   2009; Shambhavi, 'Red Kali', 1997; Pat Hoffie, 'Ideology and Artefact #2', 2012. All images courtesy the artists.

Left to right: Sangeeta Sandrasegar, ‘Take away that monster/That face that makes men stone, whoever she is’, 2009. Shambhavi Singh, ‘Red Kali’, 1997. Pat Hoffie, ‘Ideology and Artefact #2’, 2012. All images courtesy the artists.

Standing against discrimination

The increasing attention paid to women’s rights in South Asia has activated a resurgent feminist movement among the region’s female artists. Anupama Srinivasan, director of the 9th IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival 2013, held in New Delhi in March, said that women were now treating art events as a springboard to make a stand against gender discrimination in the country.

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Related Topics: Indian artists, Australian artists, feminist art, women power

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