Women with epic proportions

Ever wondered how several epics from across the world involve women being abducted or done wrong, which then leads to a war? Bengaluru-based artist Pushpamala N’s current exhibition titled Avega — The Passion makes use of different mediums such as performance photography, video and stop motion animation to discus three women from Ramayana — Sita, Surpanakha and Kaikeyi, as archetypal figures.

“When I read the translation of Valmiki’s Ramayana, I found it extremely passionate; its similarities to a Greek tragedy, with its strong personalities. It wasn’t some kind of a long boring tale,” shares Pushpamala. Keeping this in mind, the artist decided to name her project Avega, which means a strong, forceful emotion in Sanskrit.

Woman on par
The artists feels that a lot has been written and described about the men in the epic but very little has been said about the women apart from calling Sita as a tortured soul and Kaikeyi as cruel, “Had it not been for these three women, the story would never have happened. Ramayana is too vast — that’s why I decided to focus on these women, who are representative — Sita, the long-suffering heroine, while Kaikeyi and Surpanakha are the vamps, the seductress and almost the aggressive femme fatale personalities.”

Her works have been divided into four sections — Chala/intrigue, Indrajala/ seduction, Apaharana/ abduction and Mrugyati/ the hunt — all using different mediums. “I have referenced to old theatre and movie stills and used all kinds of props and painted backdrops to recreate the scenes.

The sepia colour lent itself to the vintage appeal of old theatre and so, I decided to shoot the Intrigue part in sepia (where Kaikeyi is talked into asking for Ram’s banishment from the kingdom). As for the seduction section, a still photograph of Surpanakha’s seduction dance and her nose being cut would not have as much effect as a video. Hence, I have used black-and-white video to represent early cinema and animation, which was like the beginning of the modern era. Filmmakers like Dadasaheb Phalke were magicians and used these kind of magic effects in their movies,” explains the artist.

East meets West
The artist has also used references from pieces of Western art such as Poussin’s Rape of the Sabine Women and Fuseli’s Nightmare and Raja Ravi Varma’s Jatayu painting, “I try and refer to different works as it adds layers to my work and people get into the work and try and interpret it from what they have seen. It’s not only old films, even Chandamama comics for that matter. It helps people associate and gives them an indirect familiarity.”

The person who plays Ravan is one of my (Pushpamala’s)artist friends from Bangalore and he could not lift me for the abduction scene. So, we placed my grandmother’s old cupboard behind him on which I had to lie down, and we used the fog machine to blur the background. There were 15 people in the room, the door of which had to be shut because of the machine. Every few minutes we had to run out or we would start gagging!” 

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