The Pill is a Personification. The Pill is a Hyperbole, an Archetype, a Symbol. It’s tiny, systematic, circular self has flirtatiously traveled across the globe, morphing old wives tales about women’s cycles, reproduction and sexual intercourse.
And how the tiny tablets find themselves in an art gallery in Delhi only hints at their locomotive stamina. Particularly fascinating, across the exhibition, is the number of artists that chose to employ the shape of a circle, in image, metaphor and meaning, to depict their perceptions of the subject. In India, the pill was introduced through Western pharmaceutical companies attempting to control Indian markets. It was seen as a validation of promiscuity and pre-marital sex. More superstitiously, it was seen as a hindrance to a woman’s natural biological rhythm. Others argued that in a country with little population control and a ban on abortion, the Pill leant women an otherwise unknown independence.
The curator, Avni Doshi, brings 11 artists from India, Pakistan and the US to explore their opinions of this simultaneously “magical” and “terrifying” object on its 50th anniversary. The participating artists are Jaishri Abichandani, Sarnath Banerjee, Ayesha Durrani, Kaif Ghaznavi, Tushar Joag, Abir Karmakar, Swati Khurana, Nandita Kumar, Tazeen Qayyum, Mithu Sen and Vito Tumbarello.
Tazeen Qayyum’s series of hot water bottles—associated with warmth, comfort and healing—are ripped open in the centre, some in circular shapes, some less rigid, with feminine images of flowers pouring out. Simultaneous pain and therapy. The title of her installation is “It’s complicated,” referring to Facebook term for a love quandary. However, the paintings in the centre are in the form of old miniatures, while the bottles are rubber, and thus does she reconcile old and new perspectives.
Pakistani artist Kaif Ghaznavi creates a photographic installation titled “Maang” from approx fifty 8x8 inch photographs: Each circular photograph is a view of the parting in a woman’s hair, seemingly referring to the tradition of applying red powder in the hair when classified as married, as well as referring to the lunar cycle, which governs a woman’s menstrual month as well as her hormones.
Lahore-based Ayesha Durrani has her roots in fashion design, and explores the status of the pill in the context of fashion. A headless mannequin depicts the anonymity faced by a woman on the pill, with her stomach, the origin of birth and creativity, overwhelmed by the circular formation of the pill. Though Durrani’s personal view of the pill is positive, her depiction, decontextualized from her statement that the pill protects a woman from health issues as well as from the consequences of her mistakes, is a negative one. The pill, in the image, seems to have overtaken much of the mannequin.
What is refreshing is that none of the three Pakistani women artists bring Islam or the status of the Arab women explicitly into their work. Although these shades of identity are inherent in the knowledge of an artist’s background, the content of the work seemed at first aesthetic, and then socio-politic, and rather a comment on womanhood as a whole rather than geo-religious borders.
New York based artist Swati Khurana employs the circle in both her installations. She superimposes bindis into a pill-box, and embroiders women’s stilettos onto 28 embroidery hoops. She uses the idea of a circle, a cycle and the number 28, to evoke the dualities between external adornment and inner freedom. Her title “Family Planning” seemingly refers to how the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry has taken charge of human liberties and private relationships.
Tushar Joag’s mixed-media work is simultaneously violent and peaceful. Titled “Collateral Damage,” he comments on the effect of ingesting chemicals by depicting sperm as melted plastic spoons. His line drawings of the atmosphere of a woman’s placenta are, however, fragile, thin-penned and angelic, and the incongruity in the weight of the spoon and the wisp of the ovum reflects his view of The Pill as an uninvited guest.
Nandita Kumar creates a pipeline that mimics a woman’s fallopian tube, charting the path of an egg through a dark, bloody and mechanical system of steel, plastic and drainage. Once again, the final drain appears almost as a round box of pills, reminding us of the circle, of the cycle and its artifice.
The Pill is a Circle. A Circle, A Cycle, A Conviction, A Capital, A Route, An End, A Tiny Universe, A White world, Pink, Black, Red.
-- Himali Sing Soin
(All images courtesy of Latitude 28 and the artists.)