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Gendering Spaces: Artists reflect on the city Gendering Space: Artists reflect on the city
An interaction between women artist on their perspective of the cities.   Through art the different layers of a woman's personality have been revealed. With the passage of time, perception and so the portrayal of women has undergone a noticeable change especially in case of women artists. Narrowing the above theme to the geographical boundaries of the city of Mumbai, prominent women artists were invited for a discussion and slide presentation at the National Center for Performing Arts, Mumbai (NCPA). The talk was titled "Gendering Space: Artists reflect on the city." The idea was to explore the gendered spaces within art and to find out how various women artists addressed it, while dealing with the city and its real or symbolic violence.   The discussion addressed "the gendered dimensions of spatial experience" as reflected in the work of the participating artists. What are the ways in which women artists have negotiated with ideas of private and public spaces in their work, in an attempt to understand the city, its hierarchies, its threats, its strategies for survival and manoeuvre? How do they address the ideas of struggle and safety in their work? This was the theme of the talk. 

Artists Shakuntala Kulkarni and Hema Upadhyay made slide presentations, followed by a discussion. Jindal Arts Creative Interaction Centre (JACIC) and Partners of Urban Knowledge Action and Research (PUKAR) organized the thought-provoking event. 

As the discussion brought out, senior artists like Shakuntala Kulkarni and Navjot Altaf clearly locate themselves within the purview of gender to address such issues, those from the new generation like Hema Upadhyay and Shilpa Gupta do not necessarily and thoroughly associate with the nomenclature of 'Feminist woman artist.' However, Navjot has her point of view on this. According to her, the intervention of women in art history changed the whole conscious approach to representation. Women artists' intervention results in several socio-political issues of race, diasporas, environment and sexuality getting fore-grounded and because of this intervention, women artists are able to address larger issues.    Through her work Hema Upadhyay de-magnifies the body and amplifies the urban landscape. The artist's strategy of miniaturizing the body in scale and space can be interpreted as an argument against two supposedly opposed, but curiously analogous, paradigms: on the one hand, the fetishistic images of larger-than-life women's bodies reproduced in the patriarchal visual culture of the billboard, and on the other, the static canon of feminism that has, paradoxically enough, engendered a fixation with women's body-parts in contemporary feminist art. 

Art critic Nancy Adajania, while summing up Upadhyay's work, had noted: "In the very act of representing female subjectivity, women artists might end up creating an image as exotic as the ones routinely produced by patriarchal culture. Upadhyay, a Baroda-trained artist,, brings her own artistic resolutions to bear upon the investigation of this challenging genre.". 

Upadhyay superimposes photographed cutouts of herself onto her painted landscapes. This pictorial conceit makes the viewer speculate about the "real" environment in which she was photographed in the first place, her city of adoption, Mumbai where space is all but real estate, and where the landscape proliferates with duplex slums and sky-scraping monstrosities. Here, real space is built of fake concrete and fictive spaces concretise into the real. 

"I think my work talks more about the migration. It is true to a large extent that my work tends to be autobiographical in nature, but the sense of alienation that I am referring to need not be gender-specific," she explains.   Shilpa Gupta uses her own body in many of her works. In one of them she had filmed herself being shaved. The video of this ritualistic act of shaving was shown on a conventional television screen standing in the center of a large circle of long swatches of human hair laid out with the cut ends at the center point of the circle. The ends of each three-foot fall of hair radiating out from the television. 

At once the viewer is drawn towards the objects and the moving images on the television screen. On approaching the viewer soon finds that they are intruding on a very personal activity - the shaving of body hair. Glancing down from the screen the long shanks of hair carefully displayed on the floor is a startling sight triggering a response on several levels. The viewer is unsure if they should be looking at these images and objects at all. A slight discomfort, a voyeuristic feeling gnaws somewhere in the psyche. To look or not to look, that is the question. The moving images beckon again, drawing the viewer in towards the screen once more, all the while responding to the skins, the blade, the shaving of the vulnerable, naked body parts. 

On the other hand, Shilpa Gupta's works to begin with used a vocabulary that seemed to stem from feminist issues. She had used waxing strips and blood stained cloth in her works. "I was referring to taboos and the private/public spaces, and not just referring to gender." The artist has moved beyond female body and other gender issues to address issues such as capitalism and exploitation through her recent projects like Blood Diamonds.   Reena Saini Kallat has used uterus as a symbol in many of her recent works. One of her works was a mat woven in the shape of uterus with a charkha (hand spinning wheel) placed on it. She explained that it meant a lot to destitute women who were present at a related workshop in which I had exhibited my work. 

Representing privileged or underprivileged women, the connotations for women artists remain the same. As Shakuntala Kulkarni pointed out that even for urban privileged women, talking of a male gaze in a city like Mumbai is a relevant issue. Artist Nehal Shah summed up to say: "Instead of abandoning the label, our perspective of feminist issues needs to be reconstructed."   A brief profile of "The Jindal Arts Creative Interaction Centre (JACIC)"
The Jindal Organisation on invitation of NCPA established the foundation's cultural wing, the Jindal Arts Creative Interaction Centre (JACIC) in 1994. It operates as an independent body under the umbrella of the NCPA providing platform for a wide range of activities encompassing the various art forms.

The centre encourages creative interaction between the arts, organises film premieres, promotes art awareness through a series of workshops, beautifies city spaces through its 'Art in Public Places' scheme, and generates awareness for the social issues by organizing, debates, film screenings, workshops and panel discussion etc.

The Jindal Arts Foundation was established in 1984. The foundation is committed towards increasing the awareness and accessibility of contemporary art practice in India. In its endeavour to make art more accessible, Jindal Arts Foundation has initiated first ever artists' residency in India, for sculptors working in steel at Jindal Iron and Steel Company. The works donated to the foundation after the completion of the residency are to be installed in the public places. The foundation has also taken up the cause of art education, facilitating exchange programmes with the art schools in western India and artists/teachers from abroad. Link programme between Glasgow School of Arts and M S University of Baroda was the first link established in 1996. The foundation also organizes, workshops for Sir J J School of Arts students, and is currently working towards reforming of Sir J J School of Arts. It also provides study grants to the deserving artists.

The foundation is in the process of setting up an arts centre near Mumbai with the studio facilities and residential complex, which will give much needed facility to the artists community and benefit the art scene in this part of India.   Brief profile of participating artists in the talk
Hema Upadhyay and Nehal Shah were among the fresh wave of talent that was exhibited in the collection titled Memos for the New Millennium from Artists of a Melting World at Birla Academy of Art and Culture, Mumbai on the eve of the new millennium. Hema Upadhyay is a young painter who is trying to evolve newer language in her quest to grasp the new world, so to say. 
Upadhyay is a Faculty of Fine Arts alumnus, who has made a mark in the art world using the device of juxtaposing her own photographs with realistic portrayals of objects such as vessels and brooms. Her solo show, Sweet-Sweat Memories focused on Mumbai's aspirational life amidst high-rise buildings. The young artist had depicted her own set of associations with tall buildings and life within the box-type apartments of the city. Though an outsider to the city till a few years ago, Hema echoed her feelings aspiration, hope, insecurity and loneliness that the city brought out through her media paintings. 

Shilpa Gupta is an artist who works in a variety of mediums loosely grouped under the heading of Conceptual Art. A web designer by profession, her art merges subtle comments on global exploitation, disparate identities and body-politics. She is a testimony to the fact that today's woman painters are not just bound by the artistic experiences limited to the canvas and paintbrush. They are socially and politically aware as well keen to make a statement. 

In a recent Indo-Pak project she along with Huma Mulji had got 10 artists from each country to make posters on any topic of their choice. Shilpa Gupta coordinated and participated in the unique project with the idea encouraging an alternative audience, extend viewership of art, to not exclusively an "art" audience, but incidental viewing and sharing of work by artists, in places where spontaneous interaction between people occurs. 

Reena Saini Kallat graduated from the Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai and was awarded the prestigious Solomon Gladstone award in 1995. She was in spotlight earlier this year (2002) for her installation made of beach sand called Seven Faces of Dust on display at Radio Hall in South Mumbai. Reena had made a constellation of floor drawings in the shape of the uterus, which in a way represented the seven islands of the city. Seven Faces Of Dust, according to Reena, was a reminder of the hidden silences; the secret hopes and desires, impulses, ideas and realities that might never be heard. 

Shakuntala Kulkarni is a visual artist who has been making installations using multi-media, and adopting an interdisciplinary approach to visual language for the last ten years. She has several shows in India and abroad.

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