Rekha Rodwittiya’s solo exhibition at Mumbai’s Sakshi Gallery has 7ft-high canvases bathed in colour: pink, turquoise and peach. In one, a woman dressed in a stiff Victorian gown has three dogs on a leash, as if reining them, and her desires, in. In another, a girl in roller skates appears to be cutting off the umbilical cord from a pair of swords. A third—and perhaps the most blatant of the lot—paints a Mary and the infant Jesus image, or a Yashodhara and Krishna, depending on your context. But the divine child in this case, the infant that the angels dote on, is a little girl.
At 53, the Vadodara-based Rodwittiya isn’t coy about her feminist inclinations.
Her show, Intangible Interlocution: An Anthology of Belonging, which opened yesterday, has three segments. The large-scale acrylic and oil paintings are part of Diagrams of an Interior Space. The second segment, with the weighty title Letters of the Universe: When the Sun and the Moon Fall Asleep, Only Then Can I Dance so Naked, comprises watercolour paintings with popular stickers and personal memorabilia. The third, An Anatomy of Recollection, is a series of digital prints of autobiographic photo-images.
Since her student days at the MS University of Baroda (she graduated with a fine art degree in 1981), Rodwittiya’s work has fought against censorship and social diktats. But consistent amid this politics of belonging has been the celebration of womanhood, a motif most enduring in her works. All of Rodwittiya’s 22 works on exhibit are set within the framework of this feminist preoccupation.
The artworks in the show were created over 2010 and 2011. In an email from Vadodara, where she lives and works with her husband and artist Surendran Nair, she writes that her personal politics are fashioned from the perspective of gender issues. “My art is conceived from this mould of my conscience that holds my feminist spirit at its very core, with a passion and urgency that seeps into every crevice of my existence,” she says.
I Carry a Burden: A painting from Diagrams of an Interior Space.
Her protagonists take up various stances in exploring their identity. There is also a play on time, with the artist going down memory lane with intimate snapshots of the past. In Letters of the Universe, Rodwittiya uses, for instance, personal legacies such as her grandmother’s bright pink brocade waistcoat. The woman in the artwork, presumably her grandmother, is an efficient and dutiful goddess with eight hands, a magician and a puppeteer all at once, juggling all the roles thrust upon her with elan. In another (a waistcoat has two sides), she straddles a more serene space, floating in a field of butterflies.
But not everything in her work is sentimental. There is more often than once a sword or a scissor in her frames. Her women cut themselves up and thrust their fists into their own bleeding chests; they play with tigers. In terms of material, Rodwittiya also engages with the modern by using the kitschy aesthetic of pop culture
The daughter of a fighter pilot and one of the pioneering women cricketers of India, Rodwittiya is nothing short of fiesty. She has authored a book of autobiographical essays, is a prolific blogger (rekharodwittiya.blogspot.com/) and has a propensity for wearing black.
The striking works in An Anatomy of Recollection are best representative of this strong and layered personal character. In these photo-images, her women are composed of collages of industrial parts, scenes from nature, mythology, art, Bollywood motifs. The different parts fit surprisingly well, creating harmonious figures who are at peace with themselves. Rodwittiya quotes the outspoken African-American author and poet Maya Angelou to speak about this set: “I bring my memories, held too long in check/to let them here shoulder space and place to be.”
Curiously, while Rodwittiya says “I am a feminist” with apparent ease, she is adamant about being an artist without a prefix. She is not a feminist artist.
Her art would have you believe otherwise.
Intangible Interlocution: An Anthology of Belonging will run till 13 December at Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai. Works are priced upwards of Rs 6.5 lakh.