From the series Saudi Tales of Love by Tasneem Alsultan
It has been over 40 years since feminist film critic Laura Mulvey coined the term 'male gaze' to underscore how the visual arts and literature portray the world, including women, from a largely masculine point of view. But consider any typical mainstream depiction of women today, and one would perhaps agree that the male gaze continues to be as conspicuous as ever. Photographing The Female, a transnational project and an ongoing exhibition in the city as part of the FOCUS festival, challenges this one-dimensional perspective by exploring female identity and representation in photography.
"With 25 lens-based artists from 17 countries contributing their works to the exhibition, we seek to look at the contemporary female experience drawing from the place and status of women in history," shares Sarah Høilund, curator of the exhibition, who divides her time between Copenhagen and Mumbai. "Female identity is equally individual as it is global. It is a fluid concept, where some women are free to be what they want while others remain suppressed," she says.
From the series A Ritual of Exile by Poulomi Basu
Through themes like the body, sense of self, rituals and stigmatisation, the works challenge perceptions of what it means to be female, urging the viewer to consider the consequences of society's prescribed roles. The photograph by Saudi Arabia-based Tasneem Alsultan, for instance, explores personal tales of love, marriage and divorce in the country based on her own experience of being married off at 17, and going through a subsequent divorce.
Babita from the series The Wrestlers by Prarthna Singh
Co-curator Poulomi Basu's work brings to light the Nepalese ritual of Chaupadi, where women are isolated during their periods, while a portrait of Babita Phogat from the series, The Wrestlers by Prarthna Singh, is also part the exhibition. "I realised that their harder fight lies outside the sport altogether, in co-existing in society in a manner that challenges fixed ideas of gender and where the arena of dispute may emerge anywhere — at home in a stray comment from a relative on being more feminine, or on the street with passing remarks and humiliations," shares Singh.
The project, however, does not end with the exhibition. "Our goal is to build a website, which can act as a repository of diverse female narratives," says Hoilund.
Today, as part of the mid-festival celebrations, Høilund will conduct a walk-through, while Singh, Basu along with Luo Yang and Aqui Thami will be there to tell you more about their work.
ON: Today (the walk-through), 6 pm to 9 pm;
AT Sonam Studios, Sun Mill compound, Lower Parel.