Unveiling Femininity in Indian Painting and Photography
This installation considers the depiction of women and femininity in Indian court paintings and photographs from the 17th to the 19th century. Women are often presented as archetypes inspired by characters in Indian literature and poetry, such as the devoted heroine, or nayika, who anxiously awaits the return of her lover in the Rasikapriya (The Connoisseur's Delights), or the ragini, a female personification of the classical Indian musical modes of the Ragamala (Garland of Melodies).
Other paintings offer a window into the private quarters of the zenana, where women of the royal household lived in seclusion from the king and male officials of the court. Traditionally, elite women wore veils for public appearances. In the zenana paintings, however, they are shown unveiled, enjoying each other's company and engaging in pastimes such as music, poetry and dance.
Because male artists were not allowed to enter the zenana, portraits of female nobility from this period are rare. More common are paintings of female types such as dancers and ascetics (yogini). The allure of Indian femininity continued to be a popular subject during the colonial period. Photographic portraits of female dancers or courtesans, commonly referred to as nautch girls, who attracted both the ethnographic and the tourist gaze.
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Image: Idealized Portrait of the Mughal Empress Nur Jahan (1577-1645), India, Rajasthan, Kishangarh, c. 1725-50, Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, Gift of Diandra and Michael Douglas, M.81.271.7
The Unveiling of Femininity in Indian Painting and Photography, a small but poignant exhibition on the fourth floor of the Ahmanson Building, strikes a seemingly eternal chord of the “male gaze” and the “exotic other” in the confluence of cultures...