By Artika Raj:
“There is censorship of the female breast and nipple only. While the genitalia of both men and women are similarly covered, there is no hiding the breast form. We have accepted as a people that the female breast is sexual. I object”
In an art exhibition, ‘I: Object’, that goes on till the end of December 2014 in Delhi, artist Megha Joshi has an intervention to make. As a sculptor who uses a variety of media in her works, from metal, glass and silicon, to ceramics and photographs, this time around she exhibits her own body too but not through performance art, to make a very strong statement on gender issues. The idea of the female breasts, nourishing in their function but sexualised under the other’s gaze, find an expression in her art that questions our very notions of viewing things. What placed where, how, and in what manner causes meanings to change, taking away associations and lending them new meaning.
On how ‘I: Object’ began, as not just merely a statement against being objectified, but stemming from the need to look in to the factors that contribute towards it, Mehga tells us of the moment where the idea for it was born, “I had one of those out-of-character, work-destroying fits one day when I had been working very hard in a welder’s shed at 47 degrees, dressed in conservative, weather-inappropriate clothing, not drinking water due to the lack of toilets in the area. And I got harassed. I remember the song the workshop was playing – “Sheila Ki Javani”. The rage and the humiliation, the frustration and the helplessness were just too much. When I calmed down, I thought about the cultural differences, economics, biology, cities, migration, conditioning, and ‘I: OBJECT’ started taking shape”.
Her art is in a very big way, a direct expression of how Megha views herself, “I think of myself as hugely privileged as far as women in this country go and if I keep encountering problems due to my gender. What hope is there then for the women of this country fighting for basic rights? I want to make sculptures. And while I am in a place where I can do it because of equal opportunity, I do not have equality with my male colleagues. Unpleasant experiences, regulated spaces and hours, clothing etc. all make it very frustrating.”
For someone who says “I have never seen censorship being used to any advantage except stifling with an agenda” , one can’t help but agree with the truth in her words, “ Simply showing an uncovered body is obscene but mindless violence is accepted.”
More from the artist as she takes us through a selection of exhibits from her collection:
Roots and Wings: “My gender is one of the things that define me and sadly it is also one of the things I want to forget about so many times in a day. Roots and Wings takes all the dichotomies and dilemmas that women go through. Everyone who has seen it has their own two words for the roots and the wings. Identity and carefree-ness, freedom and chains, tradition and modernity, strength and weakness, acceptance and denial… are some of the ways people see it.”
Torso QED: “The famous Zoologist Desmond Morris had put forth the theory that the female breast evolved from the Ape’s buttocks as a frontal protrusion to attract mates and was essentially a ‘sexual signalling device’ and not just to nourish infants. I was disturbed with this idea and consumed with the thought of how we can turn this ‘signal’ off – I want choice. This subversion was trying to place in visual terms the absurdity of the thought to me.”
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Sensor/Censor II and III: “If the brown circle we call a nipple is on my knees or elbows, is it still ‘obscene’ or ‘sexual’? Are these terms on our body, or in our conditioned thoughts? It’s not a breast so you can’t censor it.
I don’t like the censorship of the female body. I don’t like that women are told which body part is sexual and which is not according to external standards. I am fed up of the shirtless Khans being venerated and the cleavage showing actresses being shamed. I wanted to provoke thought without being titillating.”
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Attractor I and II: “Again a reference to the theory that like the Lion’s mane and the Peacock’s feathers (male!), the female breasts are to attract the opposite sex and not essential for survival. If we agree, we cannot complain about unwarranted attention, if we disagree, we must use them to nourish our young only and believe that they are an unwanted nuisance.”
Bounce: “What makes men perpetuate sexual violence against women? Isn’t it a power-play? I invite the viewer to ‘have a go’ at these bulbous forms if they wish but it should shame them and let them know that the bags will swing bag with equal force – my wish for women – to be un-accepting of the violence they have almost accepted as inevitable.”
Object: “Object was made for a show titled R.A.P.E – Rare Acts Of Political Engagement last year when the curator called upon us to create works about sexual violence against women. By using the blow horns that were common on autos in my growing years, and sticking silicone nipples on them, I wanted to make two points: The objectification of women must stop and women must be loud in their objection of it. So when pressed, the horn makes a loud guttural sound.”
In Search for a Loo: “It’s a true story. I have spent a lot of time searching for loos and remaining dehydrated. My work takes me to the goods markets and small industry shops in the non-mall parts of the city. There are very few women there. A few urinals for men and no loos! It’s as if the city is telling its women “stay home”. While I am being quirky and funny here with the breasts marching about looking for a loo, let us not forget that this is a huge issue and rapes in villages have been proven to be directly linked with the loo breaks in fields.”
Megha concludes with what is an equally powerful idea about what art can and cannot do, “if I didn’t believe it has the power to challenge the status quo, I wouldn’t be putting so much energy into it. Art needs to be a mass culture, just like films. It remains marginalised and therefore often an elitist domain. We need to keep working for that change. In fact, visual arts transcend so many barriers of region and language, that it is the perfect tool for the upliftment of humanity. It is a social language par excellence.”