Kanchan Chander’s solo art show, Whispering Torsos, illustrates the uniqueness of the feminine gaze.
There is a beautiful line that describes the feminine narrative — women write in spite of everything. I want to add that women also paint in spite of everything or for that matter dance or sing or make music — all in spite of everything. It is true because it is the story of every woman’s life.
However important work is for us, the business of day-to-day life takes precedence, it has to be dealt with, children and husbands fed, sent to school or work, old and infirm taken care of, doorbells answered, inter-personal and social lives handled, only then can one work. And then when the people make adverse comments, I seethe with anger. I feel like asking them, what do you know about a woman’s journey?
Undivided attention to work and focused networking is a luxury, women of any strata can ill afford. It is rare to see a man willing to take on family and household related responsibilities. No wonder then that men are more successful and coupled with the boys’ club advantages, women don’t even stand a chance. And if we survive, it is due to our grit and determination to express ourselves and be heard, again, in spite of everything.
Last night when I was seeing the works of Kanchan Chander, I felt like reiterating that I have been a witness to her journey over the past 35 years and seen her grow, evolve, wax and wane in phases as life unfolded. And yet she persisted: Single handedly bringing up her son, looking after her old parent, teaching young children, working for fellow artists on the now defunct Print Guild, travelling for work, travelling to upgrade her skills, I have seen her go through it all. It is no wonder then that the feminine gaze is different and views situations from another perspective.
Her major solo art show, Whispering Torsos, opens this week at the Visual Arts Gallery from August 18 to 23 and I can’t help remember how the torso made an appearance in her work and was launched at Shatadru — a show that I had curated in 1995. It was a large papier-mâché headless and limbless torso in majitha red with Warli figurines and vines that I had hung from the gallery’s ceiling. It is interesting to note that the essential image of the torso has remained in her work and finds many manifestations from the resigned to the playful, from to the sensual to the asexual, from the humorous to the satirical, she captures the entire gamut of her being as a woman and as a person.
Emotions such as anger, rage, lust and betrayal have now been replaced by the poised celebration of experiences aesthetically portrayed in the installations of torsos; draped by assembling paper collages from magazines cuttings, wrapping papers, stickers, laces and embellished with sequins and Swarovski stones. As life unfurled each day for Kanchan, so did the torsos evolve, albeit gently.
While the earlier installations had minimal monumental kitsch material with sparse decorative motifs, over the years, these torsos became more intricately designed with decorative motifs. Vibrant and refreshing, they arrested forms of the torso using different mediums, naturally. There is a deliberate exclusion of the head and the limbs to treat the object as the subject hence giving her the liberty to experiment with extensions and additions of other forms of the torso.
Her works resonate her style and all the tedious intricate detailing surrenders to her quest for excellence. “I wanted to dress up and look good after a long time,” says Kanchan. Influenced by the works of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and world cinema, makes Kanchan revisit them time and again. Applying layers upon layers of paint gives her a meditative and therapeutic solace.
The art elements such as composition, tonality, lines, colours, mediums and placements are summarised with precision. Her thought process is more human and intuitive as she continues to create, all in spite of everything.
Most of her paintings and drawings are titled with phrases from film songs Koi lauta de mere beetey huei din sung by Kishore Kumar and Woh kagaz ki kashti woh barish ka pani sung by Jagjit Singh, Jio aur Jeene doh, Yeh zindagi usi ki hai jo kiss ka ho gaya, Pinjare ke panchi re, tera daard na jane koi sung by Kavi Pradeep, old western melodies like We had joy we had fun, we had seasons in the sun too find a place. The show also features Drawing Assemblage, a set of 12 drawings of acrylic and charcoal on handmade paper. These are a mixture of aesthetic play with monotones and colour conveying a message to break free from the cages that have us in a bind.
The Que Sera Sera series is an exclamation to the future happenings that life is yet to reveal that is not in our control. There is an almost secret desire to go back in time to maybe re-live the moments once again and rectify all errors. But there is no rewind button in life. It has to be lived here and now. Yesterday is but a distant dream and tomorrow is not ours to see...Que sera sera...
Dr Alka Raghuvanshi is an art writer, curator and artist and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org