Art and Gender – a Pedagogical Conversation(!?)

Natesh Muthuswamy with Madhushree

An email-conversation between Natesh and myself about gender, art and abstraction. Not sure how many of the questions are actually answered or whether, in the first place, the questions make sense or if there are anything such as discrete questions in this context or all of it is just another fuzzy interval in a continuous process of thinking and/or learning. If nothing else it certainly adds to the existing stream of doubts and dilemmas so that the brain feels muddled and happy. It’s a pity that WordPress humanifies all emoticons so that the multi-colour-of-consciousness-ed smileys that Natesh distributes all over the email space turn into dumb faces here!   – Madhushree

Natesh (August 4, evening) Objectivity is total rubbish. The whole thing is subjective and `gendered’. Totally bored of everything I wanted to close down totally. I saw a movie and then another movie. This woman comes on screen and life changes. Though I am not a killer, I used to make bows and arrows as a child. It struck me like an arrow. Pierced. The perfect line. The active line. Though portraits are a big no, no, it is the female face that has the line. When gender never happened, it was lions, horses and then Ganeshas. But nothing is as compelling as the female countenance with its expressive detail. And then the abstract line if she looks at you. All life connect with the line. Even a crow looks at your eyes. All of them look at you in the eye. And if she looks at you in the eye, the abstract line gets registered. I am wired again, the line is back like an addiction. And I know that it is the female line. Male gaze? Me is not interested in making; making dissolves the line. The line is instinct. The line is life. Line is life? Good title for a show….. for once I found the missing link. In the total abstraction of the line. If you can save the link between the two of you with the line, you live with him/her forever. A link that can link you with the universe. Death becomes a good friend.

Painting by Francesco Clemente

Madhushree: Whole thing is subjective – one can possibly agree to some extent, but `gendered’? Isn’t that something all of you were against at one point?

N: Actually it is a politically correct lie. If you really look at it, we try so hard to befriend intellectual idiocy…. so wasteful since they are not organic enough; hence their unfriendly, necrophiliac evaluation…. an area which is inherently contradictory since at the moment of hardness, they are very subjective with their dried-up juices…

Gender not as a negative connotation but as an inherent fact….

Please correct me…

M: Oh personally speaking I don’t really care if a work of art is `gender-biased’ or not as long as there’s some thought and work behind it. This may not be the correct attitude – I don’t know. But then what’s the correct attitude!

I aspire to see `genderless’ art because it would be very interesting to me. I haven’t yet seen anything totally genderless in art – not in dance even – the gender of the bodies always play a role…But then i can talk (if at all) about dance. I have only a very vague feeling how it is in, say for example painting, and as for music – no feeling at all. Though I’m interested to understand the question of gender in art – don’t think it’s a negative something. Neither subjectivity, for that matter.

Actually that makes me think, do you think you can write about gender in visual art – specially painting? Not as a subject, but how art is gendered (I’m cleverly trying to make you write for the blog here, naturally) – if you are interested in writing about it, that is.

Not sure if the request or the rest is making sense.

N: Yup will try… One major difference is excessive aggression in men’s work….. evolution doesn’t do anything here. if you see in the latest work “CARPET” which i got to see in Chennai only interesting thing was the male bodies being deliberately soft. male bodies project all the time and women too are made to project their sexuality if they are directed by men. There are so many qualms regarding the female body in an Indian context even in our niche, elitist segment that supports contemporary art. Can any Indian male look at female bodies in Padmini(Chettur)’s work with neutrality? The Kamasutra – Khajuraho days are gone… It’s either oppressed East or degenerate West that we have. We are a minority ?????????

M: Yeah i remember your email after seeing carpet…
“…20 years back I would have run down to the first row of seats (empty) to watch all those beautiful legs. Wow-wow-wow. They were trailing like a centipede’s legs.  If you can do a little deconditioning:  casting off our revulsion for that insect, we can see its beautiful legs moving smoothly! Nature’s art! Culture’s art happened “beautifully” on 5 carpets!
…Carpets u see for an hour and 3 I remember. The pink-kolam and 2 others. Another thing is their treatment of the male bodies. Good they were gentle. Male musckles always try to prove a point: so boring and tiring! mine mine..”


Pink Kolam (Choreography – Padmini Chettur, Photo courtesy – David Rolland Chorégraphies, AFM)

Minority is cool come on 🙂 – it’s super frustrating I understand, but still cool.

So, expecting something on it.

N: Haha, in a minute.

N: The high art low art thing is still there. In spite of postmodernism. The exclusive niche democratically belongs to everyone. The museum space accommodates everybody in the western world. Poverty ridden freaks get a chance to barge into a museum and see Anselm Kiefer’s work!

Painting by Anselm Kiefer

If you ask me, globally we are stuck. Especially because of masculine temperament. The mob thing is there in intellectuality too. Compared to the small percentage of women intellectuals. They get together and banish a mode too fast. Also the idea of originality has done more damage than good in the search for NEW-art. My god.

Richard Serra is a good example.

Sculpture by Richard Serra

In the immediate reaction to Picassovian reductionism where a Francesco Clemente type of rediscovering volume, in a new age scenario, emerged, the element of choice got marauded.

Painting by Francesco Clemente

If it is clean they will dirty it. We still have clean and dirty in the popular sense. I have zero reading but my visual evaluation and sense of equality of opportunity in a 21st century civilisational-angst-envelope, you will have to really contend with! Great Chaplins of the world aren’t too many. He never had this high low equation. It is a predicament. The market I mean. And then the mafia and conspiracy. It is the art-mafia that is stiffly controlling everything. You can contend that Richard Serra’s work is as easy as Chaplin’s since everyone can UNDERSTAND it. I used to make fun and give “opinion” in spurts that are unconnected; since I expect people to understand. But it doesn’t work that way. `Charlie’ kind of detail and framework is essential to PRESENT a statement. Like Sadanand says – “Argument”.

Charcoal work by Francesco Clemente

If I were to buy a Billion plastic teacups and make a queue of them starting from anna-square to the airport and atop a few planes of a particular Airline, I would actually improve Serra’s murderous reductionism, by providing a connotation, an idea of travel. But serra does a masculine reaction. I pull it down by saying that men choose death since they can’t lay the egg. No babies in their bellies. It’s a genetic-reaction-continuum. Was there solidarity millenniums ago. An unwritten solidarity decisive enough to choose death? For I can qualify reductionism as death of detail. Minimalism cannot ruin compassion. It requires a `show’, a detailed attack on masculine nonsense to enlighten the world of this deeply-hidden conspiracy of choosing death [of detail?]. For the choice is a two-minute noodles shoved down my throat. I would make a miniature Serra and put a rose at one end and also spray it with perfume [to remain masculine, so that you will further question my masculinity and irresponsibility of not putting a new rose when the smell of the old rose is dead]

Really sad that the Madras “jasmine” is dead! They killed it. Like Surya-Pasupathy says, “there is no ORIGINAL brinjal anymore. Every variety is GM”… Yes I would rather put an ORIGINAL tiny garland of jasmine that can emanate smell for anything close to ten hours. Tamil heroes of the 50s used to put jasmine on their spouses as some kind of smell aphrodisiac!!!!. Though they were poor jerks if at all you wish to spare an hour watching the content of their banal populism. I watch bad plays, since I need to pickle my critical faculties since my springboard needs to be solid. *[attached]…

It is time to deconstruct certain sexist parameters in high art. Though we have brainstormers like Matrix & Inception in the mainstream area, fine art, high art, and populist-commercials still remain as opposites. Postmodernism is a failure. Gender rules; though we have Mithu Sen [showwoman overdoing feminist] or a Frida Khalo… once in a blue moon.

Painting by Frida Kahlo

See this isn’t a project, since Madhuhsree wanted me to elaborate on the presence of gender as a defacto aspect of anything we do and the humbling essentiality of current day MEN to “experience” duality in its phenomenon-primacy and apolitical non-sexist choice I burn the midnight oil to mildly elaborate… !

Painting by Mithu Sen

[they didn’t ask…. But I had to shove it… fellow must be cursing… I never got a reply. Mmmmmmm!]

Evaluation isn’t an exciting job but ur kind of theatre comes back to the city after 35years. Good energy, commitment and passionate cast. Singing was fabulous.

The tiny verbal text was well handled though he did go overboard 20% I belong to the school that abstraction is impossible, even abstractest abstract has a narrative. So your narrative needs to do these things to spruce up and move into another zone of engagement; especially bandicoots like me. Most evaluators, connoisseurs are!!!! Rhetoric in theatre is unavoidable since it is brainlessness that makes brains work.

But rhetoric is genocide material. If you are not careful it will eat into u.

In this piece, physical rhetoric. Wherever there is tiredness check the structure and hammer-in abstraction where you are desperate to narrate.

Abstraction need not be desperate in arriving at a narrative.

Cut the technical rhetoric of the red light. Very dangerous the psychic connectivity of humans with red is almost impossible to de-construct. After red expectations touch sky high. Fortunately there was a tubelight at the entrance gate;atop. So red wasn’t red red but just red, still rendering unnecessary punch.

Transiting light might help the length of the piece. [like one design of one sequence crossfading into the next at a smooth pace registering a split second of  darkness??????]

(feed back on “Odissi” a dance-theatre at Spaces on Saturday last – the entire bit you can avoid….it was just an example to illustrate how in these minority times we still got to tolerate art that isn’t complete and help the makers complete them with pertinent criticism.)

Never use the word gibberish in your promotional material; yes it is that but a necessary thing which you don’t have to name; the audience can if they want to build in evocative silences and special tension between the actors where the actors build their negative spaces along with the choreographed or incidental movements.

And then ….. 🙂 have fun…

N (August 5, super early in the morning) : Putting it on FB too maa

wish to

M: Haha sure 😀

N: Too short

art criticism
isn’t my job
though I waste great deal of time on it…
Tell me how it is ? 🙂

M: Will take a nap and write back once up. Good morning 🙂

And thanks.

N: 🙂

M (August 5, afternoon): So yeah, it was indeed a bit like – “they didn’t ask…. But I had to shove it…fellow must be cursing… I never got a reply. Mmmmmmm!” 🙂 – not entirely though. For me, the paintings themselves of course are speaking up to some volume (hadn’t seen Mithu Sen earlier – thanks for that too)…


Sculpture by Mithu Sen

and there were statements which were like little gems 🙂 , but in an isolated way – like – “I belong to the school that abstraction is impossible, even abstractest abstract has a narrative.

But rhetoric is genocide material. If you are not careful it will eat into u. In this piece, physical rhetoric. Wherever there is tiredness check the structure and hammer-in abstraction where you are desperate to narrate.”

Abstraction need not be desperate in arriving at a narrative but at least to me, the relation between gender and abstraction wasn’t clear – not through what i read at least. May be there isn’t one, but that was the original question. Do you think you could elaborate a bit on that – with slightly less stream of consciousness than what is there already 🙂 ? I mean that’s the charm of your writing, and I’m a big fan, but days when I’m more in a bovine academic setup of mind, it feels easier on the brain to read something more direct and concrete 🙂 . Wouldn’t have bugged you so much – but this is one subject I’d really like to understand – personally speaking.

Violence is one point – okay. What about abstraction. How is it gendered – as you said earlier?

N: Ok sending another piece on gender and abstraction.

N (August 6, some reasonable hour) : [Serious examination of anything is such a bore as bad as an examination fever of children. Why is war so important? Why should there be “insisting upon one path” ?…. Well as far as human gender tussle is concerned the genocidal focus of masculinity which has such a glaring shimmering example in the Gaza-baby-genocide, humour can’t be the mode of address. So. If it surfaces, in this, second-in-the-series examination of gender and abstraction, hard core angered feminists can forgive me. Thank you in anticipation]….

Abstraction and gender and female understanding of abstraction is a very necessary area of pursuance for anyone who senses a firm hypothetical fascism. The perfect example can be this; “Never give scope to the sensuous in your work” was the advice of a serious abstract painter in the year 1984/85? To a student who loved his work! 30 years after Frida died?

Self-portrait by Frida

This comes from a denial of “sensuality”. The immediate question will be what is sensuality?

Please read this –


  1. pertainingto,inclinedto,orpreoccupiedwiththegratificationofthesensesorappetites;carnal;fleshly.

  2. lackinginmoralrestraints;lewdorunchaste.

  3. arousingorexcitingthesensesorappetites.

  4. worldly;materialistic;irreligious.

  5. oforpertainingtothesensesorphysicalsensation; sensory.

Poor fellows see how easily they get caught in their “virgin-Mary-syndrome” … hahaha so sad!!!

The denial of female perception as a squalid squalor of LIFE and its inevitable gory metamorphism starting from menstruation is a male fetish for cleanliness bereft of anything sticky!!!!!!!

Painting – Mithu Sen

Classification “effeminate” can be done by women classifiers and a separate volume of material on the-feminine can march into the market bloating with masculine material, regimentation-military in its nature. It reeks of terror from possible-female-domination. Terror is the key. Well once I said that war is masculine… homophobic exercise.

As if thought is a clean perception, god given, without sensual information.

As if thought in its current day structure had no pre-word squalid-squalor of male intolerance and search-definition-classification that started with rocket science and not stone-daggers.

That too was crappy honies till they spat on it and wiped it all clean till the current day market bloating with deserts in hard casings that require packers’ expertise to open and consume.

Now sensuality-feminine is a holistic [a theory that the universe and especially living nature is correctly seen in terms of interacting wholes (as of living organisms) that are more than the mere sum of elementary particles] experience and this is no con job. As if they have no exigency to stay clean…

Moses – Frida Kahlo

Mmmm fear is the key… isn’t fear abstract….. Is there female fear and male fear ?

I seriously believe that this much is enough to explain `away’ gender and abstraction in a concise manner.

The rest lies with the harbingers of change if there are any?????

Examples of two female painters (Frida, Mithu) and their engagement with abstraction… especially for those who are so stuck with Formal definitions… of-the-abstract. ……To extract we need the fruit.

Clumsy? Death too is; dear immortal makers of magic; if fascism is not magical he never could have stayed the pied piper for:1933-1945 -12-long-years!

[Natesh writes this, warning Natesh; no one else….]


Natesh on Seesaw


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s