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How Santosh Jain's artwork brings women to the forefront

In her ongoing exhibition, the artist explores the universal subordination of women despite their integral role in society

The Daily Dose
The Daily Dose (Courtesy Method)

In Santosh Jain’s digital artwork Daydreaming 1, an image of Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus jostles with another of Raja Ravi Varma’s Hamsa And Damayanti. Both goddess and princess, however, recede into the background, as if to symbolise the way women are constantly diminished by popular culture and society, whatever their status or privilege. The focal point, instead, is an image of a rather unsavoury-looking man in a bright yellow shirt, perched on a bike. Fool’s Paradise, a seemingly prosaic picture of a group of women, feels oddly disconcerting owing to the superimposition of two black and white sketches of naked men. In Joy Ride, another digital landscape, a photograph of a train packed with men—an ordinary enough sight in India—acquires a sudden touch of whimsy thanks to the digital insertion of several female figures.

Jain’s digital landscapes are an incongruous, even surrealistic, melange of disconnected images and forms that come together to directly address the universal subordination of women in art and life. Historically, women have never been the central character of any story, says the 72-year-artist, who is exhibiting a selection of her work at the show She’s In The Streets, She’s In The Stars, at Method Kala Ghoda, Mumbai, till 25 July. “They are always pushed back, never given credit, end up being silent sufferers,” says Jain, who has explored themes of womanhood from the beginning of her nearly five-decade-long career. “Through my art, I have explored the many ways in which women are an integral part of society, family and life itself.”

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Jain, a graduate of Delhi’s College of Art, began her career in 1971 as a printmaker. She went on to win a two-year fellowship in the Netherlands, returning to Delhi in 1976 and venturing into art education. She has experimented with multiple forms over the years: lithographs, collages, paintings and photographs. “What is interesting is the evolution of her work. The fact that she never got into a comfort zone,” says Sahil Arora, the founder of Method. “There was a constant pushing of the envelope, pushing the boundaries of the tools and mediums she is working with,” he says.

For instance, she decided to learn photography in her early 60s. A few years later, Jain taught herself Photoshop and began digitally inserting new elements into her images, imparting new meaning to the visual narrative. She continues, though, to use traditional artistic tools like acrylic, charcoal, paints and brushes as well to enhance her images. “Lots of people told me that digital art wasn’t art. But I enjoyed it, so I kept creating,” says Jain, whose digital work often has aesthetic elements drawn from her printmaking background.

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She’s In The Streets, She’s In The Stars contains a range of Jain’s work, from digital landscapes to more traditional art in acrylic, charcoal or paper that “have come together in a very cohesive manner”, as Arora says. “The use of the female figure is a constant theme in her artwork,” he says, adding that Jain offers a boldly feminist take on womanhood, making women the centrepiece, not afterthoughts, of her work. “There is a kind of realness and grittiness to the women in there,” he says.

‘She’s In The Streets, She’s In The Stars’ is on at Method Kala Ghoda till 25 July.Timings as per government mandate.

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