Women have often being depicted in an idealised manner. Often, particularly in classical styles, they were portrayed as reclining nudes who were there for the viewer’s pleasure. When they weren’t sexual-fantasy fodder, they were servile and obedient. The depiction of women has centered around the “ideal woman”–which is typically fair, attractive, young, thin and perky. The women in Asia and not just in India, have often played a regressive role in society. Bowing to the dictates of a predominantly patriarchal society, the woman was assigned the role of a homemaker, nurturer, a wife, a mother and at times a lover. Indian art and artists has mirrored the social status of women, which is why though most of Indian art does have women as the central theme, their portrayal is often one-dimensional.
The woman was relegated to a decorative item in the Mughal Period, typical of the times. The British ‘Raj’ in India brought with it a heightened sense of morality; scantily dressed women were now out. A baroque and posed, almost stiff portrayal of figures and women in art was ushered in. But this was also the time when women began to be exposed to education.
Women artists seem to have harboured this theme in their works, probably stemming from their own understanding of the travails of women striving to break out of the yoke of domesticity and explore their options in the new world. Anjolie Ela Menon, Lalitha Lajmi are some of the women artists who portrayed life as they saw it with women as the main protagonists. The male artists tended to still maintain a tunnel vision of women.
Today’s contemporary artists too play out the power struggles between men and women. Artists like Chintan Upadhyay choose to highlight women’s issues like female infanticide through their art. The contemporary woman despite mostly being depicted as a sexual object, reflects modern, changing society and the changing image of Indian/ Asian femininity!