by Smeetha Bhoumik
All paintings on this page are from her series on Women.
I believe in Romantic Feminism. It is what I am, I suppose. More like an existential reality, rather than a well defined philosophy. It holds together my various aspects – a romantic and a feminist. Romantic feminism, is a way of life – a quiet assertion of one’s rights and identity without overt aggression or anger. It is a sort of ‘be who you are, occupy your own space’, without embarrassment or hesitation and that includes not stepping out of the way when walking down the street, and refusing to be cornered. It is a prevalence of mind over body and behaviour, the latter two being widely advertised, culturally imposed identities hoisted on women, while ignoring her mind altogether.
‘Occupy your own mind’ could be the romantic-feminist’s liberating mantra, freeing her of conformist notions of how she should look, how she should behave, or how acceptable she is defined by others’ ideas of acceptability. ‘Extreme feminism’ allows its followers to be more radical in their thoughts and actions I believe, and its roots lie in the early stages of the feminist movement.A romantic feminist, then, is a person who has equal regard for both sexes and stands up for equal rights in no uncertain manner. Very different from a radical feminist, say, or other extreme versions of feminism.
Over the years women have featured prominently in my work, starting with Ma (my mother) to Ma (the Universe), and myriad forms of the feminine that nourish and care. Tribal women dancing impromptu in a sunlit patch while a baby bear and his Mum, and a tiger, watch rapt. A Kashmiri woman and her children returning home with fire-wood, even while guns blaze in the background, and stray bullets head her way. An urban woman juggling ten different things as she goes through the day completing her ‘Balancing Act’. A hip, city girl on the road to Jaisalmer with her beau, enchanted by a horde of gawping children. Many more such, that bring out the ‘Force ‘Within’. For an exhibition titled ‘She Is’, I had chosen to depict our stark reality of the falling-female-ratio, the abominable facts of foeticide, female infanticide and travails of the girl child.
Using pen & ink sketches depicting girls in this land, I made a set of about twenty works which were put up to represent a graph of the falling female ratio.
Art and Poetry are both my passions. Both pursuits allow me to be creative in very different ways. Painting binds me with itself very physically, and at times I am all over the floor, the easel, the canvas, trying to reach into obscure corners of the mind as well as surfaces ….while poetry fills up all those moments when a thought, an emotion strikes a chord, and a poem is born. It is at once a relaxing, exciting mental engagement. And from many a poetic feeling, some of my paintings also take shape. Both kind of fuel each other. My fondest wish is to get the two together in a creative format in some way, someday.
Thinking about this and looking back, I see that most of the themes have been subjects very close to my heart, which have waited patiently in me for years; before being nudged out into the present by something. For example, I remember those childhood moments sitting on my father’s lap in the garden as he recounted his travels in different parts of the world and went on to introduce me to the stars in the sky. The universe opened up as he spoke. Years later, browsing in the British Council Library in Mumbai, I came across a big reference book on the Universe showing NASA’s adventures in space and the Hubble Telescope’s awe inspiring images of galaxies, supernovae, star-forming regions and mysterious cosmic phenomena. I got back home and the Universe Series started off for me with Angarki Sky (because it was Angarki chaturthi that day). The best part is that my favourite works are always effortless, intuitive, spontaneous; as I paint alla-prima, ie wet-on-wet, a fast & furious technique working with wet surfaces of oil paint.
I wrote this poem in March 2015 in response to atrocities on women in India.
Boundaries are faint, hazy
Evaporating into nostalgia,
One ‘known’ at a time.
The jasmine, the rose
An old lane that was mine
And a blankness descends
Where the evening once was.
It drips away drop by drop
Its essence just a memory now,
The way metals lose their shine
And men corrode.
When you see women wearing teardrops
In place of pearls,
Their necks still glistening
As they fall
Over & across
the country’s limbs,
You wonder if a war is on
And the enemy within?
Smeetha Bhoumik is an artist and poet based in Mumbai. Her art has been exhibited widely in national and international shows, like the Red Dot Miami, Parallax London, Oxford International Art Fair-UK, Barcelona International Art Fair, India Art Festival- Mumbai, Miami Art Expo USA, Academy of Fine Art, Kolkata, Jehangir Art gallery among others.