The woman in the cane mask
Artist Shakuntala Kulkarni dons cane headgear and armour to make a statement about protecting women's bodies and fight to save public spaces
In 2007, while I was walking down the street at Shivaji Park, a lump of boiling hot tar fell on me. One of the buildings was probably getting their roofs waterproofed. I didn’t think much of it, but when I recalled the incident to my family and friends later, I wondered about how we can protect our bodies,” says Shakuntala Kulkarni, narrating how she began her project ‘Of bodies, armour and cages’.
Through the project, which she began working on three years ago, Kulkarni attempts to initiate a discussion on how women can protect their bodies. “So many atrocities are committed on women, and their bodies are constantly used and abused. How can we protect ourselves? I don’t claim to have the answers, but I hope this project raises a discussion about the issue, at the very least.”
As part of the project, Kulkarni poses majestically in a cane costume she created with the help of a labourer (who made her furniture) at locations across the city since last November. “I was amazed at my own idea,” she says incredulously, explaining her thought of using the metaphor of a cane armour and headgear.
Traditionally, armours used in wars were made of metal. “I’m not comfortable using metal and tried to think of other alternatives like canvas or textiles,” says Kulkarni. It was cane, a material she adores, that she finally settled on. “My curtains and chairs at home are made of cane. I asked the guy who made those to spare a labourer,” says Kulkarni, adding that she discussed the project’s concept with him. Over the course of a year, the labourer moulded and twisted the cane to fit the drawings Kulkarni had made of various headgears and armours. She then brought in jewellery makers from Assam for the final touches. “They weaved in the details of rings and bangles etc.”
How did she pick the locations she posed at? “I chose locations that meant something to me. For instance, I took my children to play at Juhu beach,” she says. She also wanted to raise the issue of encroachments. “Saraswat Colony, India’s first housing society, was built by my great grandfather. They’re going to break that down and rebuild it too,” she laments. The artist, who detests malls, even posed on a pillar to protest against the “ruthless redevelopment” in the mill area.
Kulkarni hopes that visitors at the gallery view photos and watch the video of her posing in the costume will engage in discussions about the issues she’s concerned about. She has already got the passerby to question her as she posed in some of the city’s most crowded places. “People asked what I was doing. I felt ridiculous sometimes, but at least it got them thinking,” she concludes.
At: Until September 15, 11 am to 7 pm, Chemould Prescott Road Gallery, Queens Mansion, Third Floor, GT Marg, near Cathedral School, Fort