On occasion of the International Women’s Day 2017, an ensemble show of 25 women artists was organised by A.M. (Art Multi-disciplines) Studio, in Kolkata.
The exhibition, conceived and curated by Ushmita Sahu, wanted to create a dialogue that would go beyond the gallery and involve the community.
Hence right from the outset, several measures were taken to ensure a sustained dialogue with the artists as well as the viewers. Each artist was asked to respond to the words ‘I Am’ through prose or poetry, which were then printed as bookmarks that could be taken away by the viewers. The viewers were also asked to write their version of ‘I Am’ which became part of the Gallery display.
An interactive drawing session and walk through, which saw a lot of inquisitive questions and discussion, was organized for the neighborhood.
"Are gender centric exhibitions a valid trope today or are they just a dated cliché? Is conceiving an exhibition through the rubric of femininity important, or do such parameters only help to create a feeling of unease or restriction because not everyone identifies with such evaluations?
When I was trying to conceive “I am”, these questions positioned themselves as my liminal guiding principles.
It is easy to pass off an all women show by claiming to be a struggle for equality. While this is essentially true, however, I also believe that struggle is not the prerogative of any single group or gender. There are multitude stories of struggle and marginalisation irrespective of gender. However here, in this show, we focus on what makes a woman unique.
Like life itself, a woman encompasses multitudes and exists beyond predetermined stereotypes. Highlighting this diversity “I Am” is a celebratory tribute to the indomitable spirit of women through the works of twenty-five inter-generational artists, which includes new names fresh from art school to groundbreaking luminaries.
And so, just as any other group of people or friends come together to talk, discuss and dissent, here too the collection of various female voices speaking via their creativity, turn into an anthology, a dialogue that often overlaps, interplays and resonates with each other weaving multi-hued stories." (Ushmita Sahu, artist and curator)
Two examples of writings by ‘I am’ artists
When you read a book, you will find me as a woman with only romantic interests, or vulnerable, or as a victim, or a mother. Very few movies and books project me as a three dimensional character.
I hope someday the world will understand that being "strong" isn't just about physical strength, or having strong convictions, but about being flawed, complex and realistic." (Promiti Hossain, Bangladesh)
"I am the suffocating disparity wrapped up in the shiny stitches of Zardozi
I am the trembling flight still breathing in the glass jar
I am the memory of the warm undercurrent of the frozen river
I am the lotus pond of the known and the light years of the unknown
I am the mesmerizing fragrance still travelling in the minds
Searching…….. researching……… / I am who I am / I am who I could be / I am who I would be / I am exactly who you are." (Sabrina Osborne, United Kingdom)
A Performance Piece
by Arni Sarkar, M.F.A. student at Visva Bharati University, took place in the gallery on the day of the opening.
The piece, a collaboration between artist and curator, questioned the Indian obsession with fair skin.
Arni’s performance was followed by heated debate, as most Indian women have, at some point of time in their lives, faced discrimination due to their skin tone. This is still a serious issue in this age and time, as ‘fairness creams’, promoted by famous film stars, are a multimillion-dollar industry in India.
With a growing awareness amongst the younger generation, there has recently been a backlash in the social media against these companies, as well as several campaigns aimed at eradicating this bias. The performance touched a deep-rooted emotional chord within the viewers.
"Fair & Lovely and all other fairness creams have propagated a mindset in India, which is predominantly a dark skinned country, that only ‘fair’ is ‘lovely’ and fairness is the mark of success in life. I feel that a person’s complexion should not be a reason for discrimination against them." (Arni Sarkar, performance artist)
Public Art Project
A public arts project was also organised, in keeping with AM Studio's aim of connecting with local people. It was received with open arms by the community, and on the day of the mural painting, the lane became the catalyst of conversation and interaction.
Artist Moutushi Chakraborty, along with students of Amity School of Fine Art, collaborated in creating a Wall Mural Public Arts Project. Facilitated by Ayan Mukherjee, Director of AM Studio, and curator Ushmita Sahu, the project took place in Bijoygarh, South Kolkata, on March 17.
"A nondescript factory wall, in close proximity to AM Studio, was was arranged for the purpose by AM Studio.
Since the project was an integral part of the exhibition ‘I AM’ curated by Ushmita Sahu in celebration of International Women’s Day, I chose for it the theme ‘Power of Femininity’.
Two full figured feminine forms loom large amidst the entire stretch of the mural; their dark complexion a beautiful contrast against the grey wall, challenging any fixed notions of female body. It was again a celebration of everywoman, hence very subtly a point was made with the two figures adorned with bright images of flora and fauna.
Using cardboard-stencils, colours were spray painted onto the wall with great enthusiasm by the participants.
The final image was a brilliant riot of colours that not only enlivened the wall and alley, but that sparked much enthusiasm among the residents of the community and curious passersby.
It once again reconfirmed the adage, ‘Art is most successful when it is shared.’" (Moutushi Chakraborty, participant artist/educator)
Artists’ comments about participating in 'I Am'
The most interesting aspect of the show was all the works were in small format, which created an intimate language. My work ‘Concrete Leakage’ is mainly about the relationship between me and the objects in my home, and on how the fragile human life leaves behind certain incidents, and sensitivity within the concrete structures of our private spaces.
The performance and the public interaction gave the show a much larger dimension. (Jayeti Bhattacharya, West Bengal)
‘We all have an idea of who we are, but that idea is rarely challenged or put to test .
The simple task given to the artists by the curator Ushmita Sahu, to complete the sentence I am ....... , led to the introspection of a spectrum of roles and attributes that I have assumed to get to what I am today.
That which defined me internally and from another's perspective does not necessarily represent who I am today. The roles are ever changing and never static.
It is the strength of the attributes I possess like passion, loyalty, ferociousness, kindness, and sense of purpose that enabled me to do justice to the roles I play. Today, in introspection, the wellspring of my being comes from Creating, Nurturing, Protecting. The 'I am....' Project came as an opportunity to revisit the concept of who I am’. (Priti Vadakkath, Kerala, India)
" We never know how high we are / Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan / Our statures touch the skies”
The "I am" exhibition opened on March 8, 2017, and ran through March 29. The Public Art Project took place on March 17. It was reviewed in several leading newspapers and periodicals, along with a substantial coverage in Art & Deal Magazine, one of India’s leading Art magazines.