Art Heritage in collaboration with The Seagull Foundation for the Arts bring a monumental show for the first time to New Delhi, Women Seen and Remembered: Drawings by K. G. Subramanyan (1953-2016)
Capturing the sensuous, immediate and intense experience of his times through a variety of mediums including acrylics, reverse paintings and terracotta murals, the prolific poet, painter, philosopher, pedagogue, K. G. Subramanyan (1924-2016) has left behind hundreds of drawings, either complete in themselves or studies for larger works.
On closer inspection of this vast archive, it appears that over fifty per cent of Subramanyan’s drawings and sketches are exclusively of women, leading us to believe that women indeed were the focus of his attention. Executed over the six decades of his practice between the 1950s and 2000s, we see how Subramanyan’s perception of the woman alters, as at each stage he seeks to capture her dynamically changing relationship to her predominantly male dominated environment.
Arranged chronologically, the works in the exhibition move from the slumped, domesticated body of the woman of the 1950s, to reveal how she transforms into a self-aware coquette in the 1970s, presenting herself in her full blown, stark sensuality. With the 1980s and 90s a new, threating aspect of the woman appears as she is seen masked, presenting a double image of herself. Refining her ammunition to deal on more equal terms with her male counterpart, also masked, they together re-enact the age-old antagonistic war of the sexes. From the 2000s the woman is rarely shown singly or coupled with the man, instead Subramanyan’s compositions show her to be an involved participant in larger, social issues. From around this time the artist delineates the woman in her avenging avataar, as the goddess Mahishasura. Mounted on a tiger, the woman is charged with cosmic energy and she is seen in all her glorious resplendent beauty.
An artist’s sketches or doodles are essentially to be viewed as his working drawings or drafts that he will eventually develop into larger works. Like the notes of a writer or the rehearsals of an actor, they are normally not shared with the public. This exhibition then is a very unique one, as it allows us an extremely privileged, behind-the-scenes glimpse into how a great artist like K. G. Subramanyan, at each stage, worked tirelessly towards redefining and refining his changing perception of the woman of our times. Awarding centrality to the woman as the chief protagonist of his work, K.G. Subramanyan, always a keen and critical observer of society, at no time presents us with charming or sentimental images of vulnerable women. Rather, his women are provocative, witty and often brutally savage – women who show agency and a growing sense of self.