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A new exhibition that gives the 'muse' a sense of agency

The new show at Akara Art revokes the idea of vacancy in the female muse and tries to tell their tale of self-awakening

Detail from B. Prabha’s ‘Untitled’ (1980s). Image: courtesy Akara Art

Untitled by B. Prabha, showing a garland seller in deep contemplation, features her signature elongated figure of the rural woman. It’s on display as part of the exhibition The Idolised Muses at Akara Art, Mumbai, which is showcasing depictions of the female form in paintings and sculptures by Hemen Mazumdar, M.F. Husain, Amrita Sher-Gil, Adi Davierwala, Dhruva Mistry and G. Ravinder Reddy, among others.

"We had a few interesting works come up from a particular collection, and also a few in inventory, which went really well with the theme," says Puneet Shah, founder and director, Akara Art. He feels that certain works such as the reverse acrylic by Subramanyan from 1987 and the painting by Mazumdar are significant not just for their composition but also because one doesn't come across these very often. "It is quite fascinating to juxtapose these with works by G. Ravinder Reddy, Anjolie Ela Menon and a very early Bikash Bhattacharjee," he adds.

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K.G. Subramanyan’s ‘Study For Heads’ (1987). Image: courtesy Akara Art
K.G. Subramanyan’s ‘Study For Heads’ (1987). Image: courtesy Akara Art

The female figure has served as a muse to countless artists, be it the Kalighat and Tanjore paintings or the Company school. “The male gaze makes their features generic, purposefully avoiding semblance to a living person. Though the legends associated with the muse might indulge our romantic fantasies, it is still vague and mysterious, and it omits matters of the self,” states the curatorial note. The exhibition hopes to invest the “muse”, or the female figures, with a sense of agency. Husain’s cubist approach and Anjolie Ela Menon’s surrealistic rendering, for instance, push the artist into the background, shining the spotlight on the protagonist.

Also read: How Santosh Jain's artwork brings women to the forefront

There are several threads of thought that emerge from each section of the exhibition. "For example, Hemen's work on display is all about simplicity of life, while KG Subramanyan highlights the different moods and expressions of a particular person. When you see the Amrita Sher-Gil work physically, you have to come really close to see the kind of elaborate detailing she has created for the clothing of the subject. Bikash's work gives you a sense of time, of how cultured teenagers in Calcutta used to dress. In spite of the myriad treatments and compositions, each work examines the role that women played and how they were perceived by society," adds Shah.

The show is on display at Akara Art, Mumbai, till 31 July.

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