Kolkata-based artist Piyali Sadhukhan uses art to address violence against women

Pallavi Chattopadhyay
Piyali Sadhukhan; her work at the gallery

Broken bangles to artist Piyali Sadhukhan from Kolkata are a reminder of Indian women, who are forced to break their bangles on the death of their husbands, or are at the receiving end of domestic violence. Choosing this medium that has a history of potholes and pain attached to them she transforms them into something beautiful, in her installation. She broke her spine in a stumble down an alpine pass, where she has handpicked floral patterns from Kashmiri carpets, and replicated them using broken bangles on Nepali handmade paper, spreading it across the floor at Akar Prakar gallery. From far, it looks like a Gulliver-size equivalent of a necklace. Using crochet, she has shaped one end to resemble a spine and the other end a halo. Sadhukhan presents this as part of her latest solo Seeing is (Not) Believing .

We have the largest number of goddesses in our country but do we really care about women in our society? In real life, they are merely pieces of beauty and ornamentation, says Sadhukhan, 40, referencing to the many instructions imposed on a woman, from the way she walks to the clothes she wears. She pinpoints to the many thankless jobs, such as cooking and cleaning, which is expected of a woman after her marriage. There are innumerable women who are bound by such tasks that they may not want to do. They become comfort givers to their families, she says. Sadhukhan uses her latest show to address the problems and issues facing women, focusing on the growing violence in society.

Although sati, the act of self-immolation by widows on their husbands funeral pyre, was outlawed by the British in 1829, and has been banned in India for years, Indian women continue to be at the receiving end and bearing the brunt of similar inhumane practices. Sadhukhan s Silent Automata; Code Red interprets this example. The wall hanging, a carpet, made from Nepali handmade paper, and its designs made of broken bangles, appear burnt.

Piyali Sadhukhan; her work at the gallery

The patterns extend into the wavelength of screams. It is about women as a whole and their current situation in society. There is the case of 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama from Manipur, who was raped several times and killed in 2004. During community wars, women are the first to be raped and killed, whether it is during a riot or Partition. The Nirbhaya incident or the tumultuous landscape of Bastar are other cases in point, she says.

Resembling the idol of a Durga puja pandal, the tall mixed-media sculptural installation Flaming Altar owes its roots to the controversy surrounding Kerala s famed Sabarimala temple. In the installation, male devotees, have their eyes covered, as they pray to their god, whose eyes, ears and mouth are capped with hands, as depictions of ovaries and umbilical cords rest underneath. Even a god must be the son of some mother. If there is no mother, there would be no son. But nowadays women are on the periphery, she says.

Her choice to write couplets, in Braille, under most of her art works, successfully fulfill her purpose, of showing how society turns a blind eye to situations. Among these, Urdu poet Haneef Kaifi s couplet stands out: Apne kandhon pe liye phirta hoon apni hi saleeb, khud meri maut ka maatam hai mere jeene mein (On my shoulders I carry my own cross, my life is my mourning).

The exhibition is at Akar Prakar, D 43, Defence Colony, Delhi, till June 25