We might be a goddess-worshipping country but, curator Arshiya Lokhandwala feels that women have always been regarded as the second sex in the country.
“If you look at the practice of Sati, when the woman is alive she is of no value. When she gives her life for a man she immediately becomes the Sati mata or a goddess. My talk will be based on the idea of goddess worship in India and the position of woman within the Indian context with the notion of goddess,” shares Lokhandwala.
In the catalogue text for Devi, extracted from the exhibition of Indian Goddess at the Arthur M Sacker Gallery, Washington, DC, it deliberates that there is no great goddess but when activated, every goddess is the great goddess, “I consider this proposition by discussing the installation that Anita Dube entitled Imitations of Morality (1997) and two photographic works by Vidya Kamat — Being Kumari and In Sacred Time (2005).
My attempt is this essay is to establish a relationship between reciprocal exchanges of darshan, (the Indian concept of seeing God in the act of worship) with the psychoanalytical concept of Kaja Silverman of ‘ethics of the field of vision’ where the gaze of the Devi is not a gift, but a demand for an ethical response,” she adds.
While Kamat’s artworks depict the process of becoming a goddess or the Kumarika practise in Nepal, Dube imposes the eyes used for completing idols and fixes them on different objects for her work, “There are rituals for imposing eyes on the idols and people say that the idols are awakened only when they have eyes on them. Dube has used these eyes in her works.”
Lokhandwala, who has been working on this paper for five years now will also talk about the concept of Indian way of darshan, which she feels is different from the western practise of worship. “According to Jacques Derrida (French philosopher), a gift is something that implies a return. God giving benevolence demands that you give back to him. What I am proposing to give back is ethics of vision. Which means if you are seeing something wrong you need to do something about it. I am using these artworks as a speaking point to talk about ethics,” she explains.
The reason that Lokhandwala feels made her take this topic was her being away from the country while pursuing her PhD at Cornell, “I was away from all Indian cultural practises. The distance prompted me to do that.”