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Politics of purity: Konkan artist shatters sexist stigmas with cow dung, embroidery and more at India Art Fair

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New Delhi, Feb 4 (PTI) A yellow tarp in one corner of the India Art Fair presents a sight commonplace in rural India - cow dung cakes plastered to a wall to dry. Look closer, however, and you see the cow dung cakes are stylised in the shape of female genitalia.

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For Konkani artist Mayuri Chari, the rows of vaginas sculpted in cow dung are a statement against the hypocritical attitude towards menstruation. Through her art, she questions the tradition of banishing women from their homes during their period for being “impure” though the use of cow dung in religious and domestic application is deemed “pure”.

“During their period, women are banished to a corner of the house for four days. They can’t touch anything or anyone. They are considered impure. On the other hand, cow dung is used for purification of the home and a cow is worshipped while a human is rejected for being impure,” Chari told PTI.

“I am questioning that idea,” added the Goa-born textile artist exhibiting at the India Art Fair as part of its Artists in Residence programme.

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Chari’s work, influenced by the statement “a woman is not born, she is created”, plays around gender and body stereotypes.

In what can be termed re-appropriating the Portuguese legacy of trousseau stitching that was adopted by her family during colonisation, Chari’s corner also features large quilt covers as well as small clothes with bodies of women in their natural shapes stitched in with colourful threads.

It is all a celebration of womanhood not confined to any stereotypes of beauty.

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“I am celebrating my body. It’s been our mentality in India that only slim women with fair skin are beautiful. I am rejecting that idea. Women with larger bodies are termed fat, but they are also so beautiful. I am celebrating that in my work,” Chari said.

The 33-year-old argues through her stitchwork argues that women should be treated equally as individuals.

A pillow on the floor reads “I was not created for pleasure”, small embroidered vignettes point at stereotypical gender roles with statements such as “Maggie bana kar lao (make Maggie for me)”, “I want black tea. Make milk tea for me”, “Ye roti hai ya desh ka map (is this bread or the country’s map?)”.

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Talking about her work, Chari said women in India are created by society as “it decides how they have to sit, walk and work”.

“I am working on women’s issues and body politics. And I use certain statements in my work, I also write poems. I think women are not born, they are created by society. How to get up, how to sit, it’s all decided by society. Women are shaped by this. Rules are imposed on them, you are a woman and this is how you have to live and this is what you have to do,” she said.

The Mumbai-based artist added that women are expected to learn certain traits so their mothers-in law don’t complain.

“I was also told ‘your mother-in-law would complain what did your mother teach you’. This is what my mother taught me,” Chair added, pointing towards her embroidered work.

The India Art Fair began on February 1 and ends on February 4. PTI MAH MIN MIN

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