The Indian Subcontinent has produced numerous artists of international renown, many of whom are fetching millions at auction worldwide. Some of the most successful and innovative artists from India are women, and their varied practices explore a wide range of themes, from identity and memory to politics, history, and contemporary culture. We bring you three most famous contemporary female Indian artists.
3. Shilpa Gupta
Examining a range of themes from consumer culture to desire, security, religion, nationalism, and human rights, Shilpa Gupta’s interdisciplinary practices utilize interactive video, photography, installation, and performance art, often relying on audience participation. Functioning like an interactive video game, her series of video projections entitled Shadow (1, 2, and 3) incorporate the viewers’ simulated shadows, captured by a live camera. The shadows are projected onto the white screen, and interact with other shadows created by objects, dolls, houses, birds, and other figures dancing, jumping, and walking.
Gupta is one among a young generation of Indian artists whose work responds to the country’s postcolonial societal divides. She often blurs, re-draws, and erases geo-political boundaries, such as in 100 Hand-drawn Maps of India (2007-2008), comprised of hand-drawn maps by viewers from memory, or her untitled work depicting a yellow police tape flag reading, “There is no border here.”
2. Bharti Kher
The stick-on, ready-made bindi – a traditional Indian forehead decoration – is central to Bharti Kher’s practice, and invites ambivalent meanings, oscillating between tradition and modernity. Kher thrives on creating art depicting misinterpretation, misconceptions, conflict, multiplicity, and contradiction, exploring human drama and contemporary life.
The bindi appears in her paintings as well as in her sculptural installations, challenging the role of women in a traditional country, and referencing its traditional spiritual meaning of the ‘third eye’. Her record-breaking The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own (2006) depicts a dead or dying fibreglass elephant covered in shiny bindis.
Her work further engages with allegorical tales, fantastical creatures, magical beasts, and mystical monsters, as seen in other animal-based pieces such as Misdemeanours. An Absence of an Assignable Cause (2007) is a life-size replica of the heart of a blue whale, based on the artist’s imagination, emphasizes the romantic idea of a ‘big heart’ and the mysteries that bind the heart to concepts of love, life, and death.
1. Zarina Hashmi
With paper as her primary medium and a minimal vocabulary rich in associations, Zarina Hashmi creates abstract works that resonate with her life experiences of exile and dispossession and the concept of home – whether that is personal, geographical, national, spiritual, or familial. Her contemplative, poetic oeuvre includes woodcuts, etchings, drawings, and casts made from paper pulp. Her handcrafted and calligraphic lines constitute a unifying element in her compositions. Language is pivotal for the artist.
Letters from Home (2004) showcases a series of prints based on letters from her sister Rani, who lives in Pakistan. In a Tate video interview, Zarina recounts how receiving those letters helped her to preserve a sense of identity. Handwritten Urdu is overlaid with maps and blueprints of distant homes and places, bearing the shadows of significant moments and impressions of places relevant to her family’s life.