Pushpamala N, Abduction/Apaharana (2009)
Pushpamala, one of my favorite contemporary Indian artists, is best known for her earlier Ethnographic Series. This take on the Ramayana brings Pushpamala’s exaggerated sense of drama to explore questions of gender and storytelling.Discussing Pushpamala’s performance photography for the National Portrait Gallery of Canberra, Ajay Sinha writes:
In the ‘Wilderness’ chapter of the Indian epic Ramayana, Sita, the pinnacle of feminine virtue, yields briefly to temptation and is abducted by Ravana. Pushpamala seizes this moment and elaborates on it, playing the role of Rama’s demure wife swept away by the demon. High action unfolds in meticulously designed tableaux, recalling the proscenium-framed settings of late nineteenth and twentieth-century Parsi and Kannada theatres. Mist, symbolising dreams and illusions in theatre and film, engulfs the actors. Against faintly visible Arcadian landscapes and golden architecture, Ravana and Sita take on the melodramatic poses of comic-book characters such as Chandamama and Amar Chitra Katha.
One of the most striking differences between this series and Pushpamala’s prior photo-performances is the large size of the photographs (approx. 1 x 1.5 metres). They recall history paintings, and the use of ornate gold frames brings to mind mythological scenes occupying ceilings and overdoors in Baroque and Rococo interiors. And yet, while the genre reference transports the scenarios to a remote story-land, the images also reflect the artist’s body as if in a life-size mirror and thereby address us somatically.