ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Smashing the Patriarchy with Art

Feminist art rejects the male gaze, freeing and empowering women and other marginalised groups to control their narrative.

[Images accompanying this article are available on the EPW website.]


In the late 1980s, the Guerilla Girls, an activist group, told the world some shocking news. They released statistics for the number of women artists displayed in popular art galleries in the United States. The numbers were dismal, but not a surprise. We’re still living in an age where women have to work much harder than men to carve out their space in the world. As I write this, Natalie Portman is wearing a cape at the Oscars with the names of the women directors who were snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Women have lived at the margins of people’s adoration throughout history. While we were adoring artists like Abanindranath Tagore and Rabindranath Tagore, we applauded female artists only as an afterthought. The British used water colours as a primary medium, and artists who were involved in the Indian independence movement moved away from it, employing their own styles to reclaim the Indian identity. They explored traditional Indian mediums, such as oil paintings, and sketches, as well as traditional Indian motifs and tropes, rejecting the idea of European art and appreciation as the yardstick. Soon after independence, artist groups sprung up all over the country. The Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, Calcutta Group, Indian Radical Artists and Sculptors (of which, the Kerala Radicals were a chapter), and other such groups were home to many famous male artists, but had only a sprinkling of female artists. India was still a new country, and artists were making a statement. Amrita Sher-Gil questioned the patriarchy, painting women as they were, going about their everyday lives. For as long as we’ve known, men have controlled the narrative, and we have seen the world through their eyes. Not viewing women under the male gaze was enlightening and empowering. Finally, women were portrayed as regular individuals—not objectified, not deified.

Village Scene by Amrita Sher-Gil (1938) 
Source: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

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Updated On : 23rd Feb, 2020
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