The installation what once was, still is, but isn’t...
Artist Dhruvi Acharya has submerged an entire room at Nature Morte gallery, in Delhi, in white. Everything here is made from soft cotton fabric — including the floor, study table, bed and pillows, books, picture frames and shelf — giving one an impression of floating on clouds. The installation, “what once was, still is, but isn’t...”, has a bed — a motif that recurs in Acharya’s work, and a place where healing begins. In 2010, Acharya, 48, lost her husband, filmmaker Manish Acharya and her father. “The bed is a place where we all spend quite a lot of time resting, when we are ill or when we are crying. Somehow that six-foot area is an important part of one’s daily life. When my husband passed away, that very place that was a solace became a place of disturbance,” she says.
Mumbai-based Acharya’s show “Permeated Absence” presents the complex emotions associated with the death of a loved one, alongside the psychological challenges that an urban woman faces. The artist, referencing the pillow-like mattress and flooring on the ground, says, “When you walk on it, you are not on solid ground. For a lot of people who deal with sudden loss or the absence of a loved one, it is a very different world, where nothing makes sense. Most of the time, reality is worse than one’s nightmare. Not knowing what is real and what is not real in the early days of grief, that’s a feeling I thought would be interesting for viewers to be a part of.”
“Plus-size”, “spinster”, “slutty”, “cheap”, “sweetypie” and “prostitute” are some of the words that Acharya has thrown all over in a canvas titled Weigh, on a background of overweight and ageing female bodies. She says, “I combine it not only with ageing but also misogyny. The trauma women have to go through just because they are female is tiring. All the words that are thrown at women, on how they are supposed to look a certain way and have a certain weight, denote how they are objectified.” In the past, Acharya has exhibited at the Queens Museum of Art in New York, National Gallery of Modern Art and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai.
Acharya, who has a masters in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, USA, uses humour to address her feminist concerns. Images of the tools that women need to look a certain way — shaving brushes, cosmetics, sanitary pads, tampons or waxing equipments — are juxtaposed with the figure of a woman giving birth, her placenta connecting her to her mother. An old lady on her deathbed, resting next to her, depicts the cycle of a woman’s life. “I was thinking of women as a community. When I was young, my mother used to cover her head but now she wears track pants and goes out for a walk. My grandfather came from a village and was an industrialist by the time he passed away. I remember when he sat at the dining table, even if the women were eating, they had to get up and go to the kitchen because he had decided to eat. We observed all these things and I wondered, ‘Why can’t they finish dinner on the table even if he has arrived?’ There used to be these clear divisions of women taking care of the housework and the men of the expenses. This is patriarchy, where men decide what one should or shouldn’t do,” she says.
The exhibition is on at A-1, Neeti Bagh, Delhi, till February 8