“Can women ever truly be at leisure?” asks Princess Pea, as we sit down for coffee at The Lodhi in Delhi. A series of vibrant paintings by the artist are on display across the reception and lobby in an exhibition curated by Apparao Galleries. “In Indian and Western art, women always appear to be in a state of leisure, whereas in reality, it is quite the opposite. I wanted to challenge this way of seeing and portraying women,” says the anonymous artist, speaking through the oversized anime-style bobble head that she’s wearing. On closer look, it becomes clear how.
In a series of paintings titled Rituals—after which the exhibition takes its name—produced intermittently between projects and major life events over the last decade, Princess Pea provides a glimpse into the workings of her inner mind. Made on silk cloth in the most eye-popping natural colours, she paints dream-like scenes of women—and her own little Pea head—going about their everyday lives and routines.
Hand-drawn and painted in impeccable detail in Indian miniature style, works such as Seven Stories, Women in Leisure and Take Good Care of Her For She Will Create History show Princess Pea enjoying the beauty and bounty of nature or doing yoga on the terrace of her home, or what resembles a grand palace. Could life really be this dreamy? “It is hard to believe that women, even the royal women, who are depicted in Indian miniature paintings lived a life of leisure. But how could they, with the kind of social roles and expectations they were made to abide by,” says Princess Pea.
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In paintings like The Ladies Enjoying Wine in the Moonlight, the women and their surroundings appear warped, as if digitally retouched on Photoshop. “I was experimenting with the photostat machine, and decided to scan and print some of my paintings in waves,” says the artist about her not-so-scientific method, “It is an attempt to disturb and question the perfect-looking portrait that we’re so used to seeing.” The resulting piece is a clever departure from the flat Indian miniature style of painting, balancing on the fine line between illusion and reality.
The West too is a subject of ridicule. Princess Pea twists and turns the principles of European portraiture painting to invent her own unique genre. In a series of portraits, the sitter—Pea herself—is dressed fashionably as Marie Antonoitte, Princesses Leonilla and Maria Theresa Louise. Like royalty, she looks beautiful, noble and important, and yet exudes a cheeky personality and positivity. “I loved watching cartoons as a child, from The Powerpuff Girls, South Park to Pac-Man, all of which have found their way into my work,” says the artist of the carefree spirit that informs her work.
Princess Pea's paintings capture the minds and moods of countless women. When asked why she continues to remain anonymous, she says, “In history, anonymous was a woman,” quoting Virginia Woolf, “many women wrote under a pseudonym or sometimes, even adopted a male name. It was the only way to get their ideas out there, and be protected from the criticism and ridicule that would come with being known as a woman writer or artist.” For Princess Pea, however, anonymity is a choice. “It allows me the freedom to exist, express and create as I wish,” she says, before she turns the other way to lift her head to sip coffee. Is it inconvenient? “Not really, it’s just a way of life,” she says.
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Presented by Apparao Galleries, ‘Rituals’ will be on view till 30 August, 2022, at The Lodhi Hotel, New Delhi. The exhibition is part of the week-long celebration of art and culture during the Delhi Art Week.