Artist uses canvas to plead for restoring woman`s dignity

Last Updated: May 23, 2013, 15:40 PM IST

New Delhi: The trauma of victims of brutal gang-rape and acid attack respectively in Delhi and Chennai shook artist N Swarnalatha to the core, so much so that she began transferring her pain on to the canvas in an act of personal catharsis.

Titled `Nirbhaya`, a painting exhibition capturing the physical, emotional, and psychological trauma of suffering women, of late, and making a fervent plea to the society "to treat us women as humans" opened up here recently.

"Last year I had come to Delhi to spend my holidays with my family. But right after December 16, I saw people marching to India Gate and holding candle-lit vigils for the gang-rape victim. And, it all jolted me inside, more so as an artist," says N Sawarnalatha.

"When I went back to Chennai I started having sleepless nights, thinking about the pain this Delhi girl must have gone through from the incident till her death. And, then these acid incidents took place with `Vinodhini` and `Vidya` in Tamil Nadu. So, I chose my canvas to register my protest as also to find catharsis for my own self as the pain became unbearable," Swarnalatha said.

For this 40-year-old Chennai-based artist, the exhibition is also an emotional plea to restore the dignity that god has blessed women with as mothers, sisters, wives, daughters among other roles.

"We are only the mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and mother-in-laws for men and the society and large. Then how can you treat us in such brutal and disrespectful ways. I only make a plea to them to treat us women as humans," she added.

The exhibition numbering 35 canvases, which saw some visitors getting emotionally overwhelmed captures the silent sufferings as it echoes the deafening screams of violated femininity.

The eponymous painting titled `Nirbhaya` showcases a girl surrounded by grappling hands as her face sombrely stands against a deluge of newsprints, reflecting the agony before, during and after her death, as news of sufferings continued to hit the headlines.

"Even after `Nirbhaya`, six-year-old, eight-year-old, 12-year-old, rapes and sufferings continued. And, acid victimization and female foeticide too continued to rear its ugly head. It made me feel so dispirited and dejected.
And, I began to think what is happening to the society," says the artist.

And, then there are shades of other forms of sufferings like ‘Fear of Unknown’, ‘Solitary Confinement’ painted in a blue ink shade, and ‘Knowledge Deprived’ which tells a story of denial to downtrodden women. ‘Endless’ marks her unbridled suffering in the hours of turbulence, "Torment" and "Valley of Sorrow" depicts the patriarchal dominance of the society among other moving images.

However, the one that tormented Swarnalatha the most and
even "made me cry" was the ‘Last Minute’ that she found very hard to paint as she says she "suffered vicariously."
"I cried day and night thinking of her suffering from the moment of the incident in the bus, shown in the painting `Lust` and till her `Last Minute` when she left us. She could have been any girl from among us and it made my heart and soul cry. And, so my work `Last Minute` was the most difficult to do, as I cried even while painting it," she says.

Some of the other gut-wrenching works include ‘Mirror’, ‘Puppets’, ‘Memories’, ‘The Plea of Women Labourers’. The colours are bright, vivid and arresting.

"Through `Mirror` I wanted to tell people that we are all beautiful inside and so why do we concern ourselves with how the world sees us outwardly.
Also, I have shown pains through colours otherwise no one would see sufferings in dull shades. I wanted people to see and feel the pain as I did," she says.

Out of 35 artworks, five have been done in acrylic, while the rest are oil or ink. The acrylic ones are ‘Fear of Unknown’, ‘Soaring Faith’, ‘Bed of Thorns’, ‘The Plea of Women Labourers’ and ‘Solitary Confinement’, says the artist.

A ‘crestfallen Gandhi’ resting on his stick and "hanging his head in shame" with glasses fallen on the ground, at the entrance, makes a sweeping commentary on the "sad state of affairs for women of late".

"I painted what would have been Gandhiji`s reaction to this appalling condition we are seeing for women today. I did it here in Delhi only after arriving from Chennai with my 35 other work. So, I have just displayed it," she adds.

The solo exhibition at the India Habitat Centre is set to close on May 24. It has been scheduled to travel to Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and finally to Washington, DC in the US next.