Homage to B.Prabha

B. Prabha, the painter who depicted the trials, travails and strengths of Indian women, first through her evocative watercolors and then through her oil paintings, died in Nagpur on 20th, Sept 2001.

Hailing from a middle class family from Bela, in rural Nagpur, Prabha since her graduation from the Sir J. J. School of Art Mumbai, way back in the 1950s, has been depicting, over and over again, what she called the "tragedy and trauma that is the life of an Indian woman." 28 x 49 in.
Oil on Canvas
In one of her untitled watercolors, for instance, done in 1985, she had painted a dark cloud above a young girl's head. In an interview she revealed, "This black cloud is symbolic of the struggle the girl child goes through. Her struggle for survival starts from birth --- she has to fight to be born too. Often, a woman is women's worst enemy. So often, the female foetus is aborted. So the girl child is under this black cloud all her life, from birth, probably from even before that, right from when she is conceived." Strength mixed with certain fragility characterized all B Prabha's women.

Prabha has left behind work done over four decades, work that show her evolution from a modern, abstract painter to a figurative one, who drew inspiration from the everyday life of the Indian women --- fisherwomen on the seaside, women selling vegetables in the market place, women with their babies, women getting married. Her canvas very rarely focused on the men, and if they found a presence, it was more in the background.

She liked using the word 'impressionistic' while defining her style of art. "I am inspired by French impressionists. I derive my style from them, and my content as well as colors from India." Her canvases are a mix of reds and blues intermingled with the mandatory white.

Prabha's figures had elongated necks, arms and torsos, figures she said, influenced by the painter Paul Klee. Her favourite theme was Mumbai's fisherwomen dressed in bright saris with their elaborate hairdos, which she immortalised on her canvas. In her four decades as a painter, she held some 50 exhibitions across India and the world, starting in 1956. She was married to sculptor B Vithal, who she claimed in an interview given last year to a leading newspaper, "was my biggest inspiration, was someone who forced me to change my perspective. He used to tell me that modern abstract paintings are not something that works in the Indian perspective. The idea was to develop a style that had its roots in Indian art. I moved to watercolors soon after." In 1958, Prabha won the first prize at the Bombay State Art Exhibition and since then has never looked back. Somewhere in the early 80s, she switched to oils, and used this medium to depict social issues that affected her. Her subject board widened, from just women to droughts and homelessness. "I can't understand how some painters can say that they work in isolation. As artist, we have to react to things around us, to the misery, and also to the joys of life that continues despite all hardships," she once said. 27 x 27 in.
Oil on Canvas
A recipient of several awards, Prabha's works are in the collections of the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi and Mumbai, the Ewing Krainin Gallery, Waikiki and several private collectors like Ambanis and Harsh Goenka.

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