- A detail from the center of a giant marriage painting by Baua Devi, on display at Seattle Asian Art Museum through Sunday, December 2.
There's a small, intriguing show at Seattle Asian Art Museum that made me hungry for more: more pictures, more information, more anything I could get my hands on about these women artists from an Indian village tradition called Mithila painting. Mithila is the name of the northeastern region of India where the paintings are made, in the villages surrounding Madhubani town.
- A painting the artist, Sita Devi, made after visiting New York City in the 1970s. The figures are riding in a chariot suspended between the Twin Towers.
Paintings from this tradition have been the subject of several exhibitions in the United States, notably a few that originated in the Bay Area. Their painting, once privately done on the walls of their own mud houses or in their courtyards, became a public commodity when an advisor to Indira Gandhi sent an emissary to the villages with paper in hand during a drought in the 1960s. The women began to make the paintings on paper, and sell them, for the betterment of their villages.
Baua Devi (marriage painting seen above) is given her own small solo exhibition at SAAM, with a series of bright paintings that tell the story of a young bride finally accepted by her husband's family after she finds a way to convert to her side the father-in-law who intends to kill her. It all seems playful and mythical until you read a little more about her life, involving a violent husband and the baby who didn't survive him.
Gopal Saha created an anthropological scene: of a Western outsider (indicated by his shoes) coming to look at the paintings made by the village women.
From an interesting article about Mithila painting:
This once largely anonymous ritual or folk art tradition has now generated highly individuated self-conscious artists, responding, as artists will, in multiple ways to their personal experience and the worlds around them. At the same time, there remain many unanswered questions about the meaning, dynamics, implications, and viability of the artistic ferment evident in the villages. Do the paintings on paper carry some or any of the ritual, symbolic, or auspicious power - either for the painters or for their purchasers - as the paintings on the walls of their homes? How has the incidence or imagery of wall painting in the District or beyond, been affected by painting on paper for sale? How do the painters themselves judge the quality of the paintings, and what new aesthetic standards are emerging? ... How is the income being generated and retained by female painters affecting local gender relations? Etc.
Whatever the answer to these questions, unfortunately, little of the evolving artistic ferment and productivity in Mithila painting is evident in India's museums or urban art galleries.
A larger exhibition looking at some of these questions, and the ways they intersect with the questions at large in the rising contemporary Indian art market, would be fascinating. SAAM?
Meanwhile, be sure to check out the current exhibition now, before it closes Sunday (December 2).