Indian Women Painters from the 1970s to the 1990s with Special Reference to the Work of Arpana Caur

Lalvani, Tasha
Supervisor: Dr. R. Ghose and Prof. G.M. Thomas

This study discusses contemporary Indian painting by women, a newly documented field, while focusing on the work of Arpana Caur. A brief overview of selected periods of Indian painting in chapter one explains the evolution from the modern period to the present and notes how references to Indian art history surface in contemporary painting. Chapter two then concentrates on the effects of history, society, and sociocultural legacies on the work of Indian women artists, which enables their art to be contextualized and their thematic choices analysed. These artists have been impacted by history, society, and personal experience, weaving these elements together on the canvas and expressing themselves to the world around them to voice what is shaping their identity and values.

Keeping this in mind, Arpana Caur’s work is examined in chapter three. A consideration of her background, where religion and personal elements prevail, is reflected and revealed distinctly on the canvas. The study pinpoints the existence of direct links between her images and her life, together with a strong acknowledgment of her Indian heritage and emphasis on contemporary social themes.

The artist is then placed in the context of her peers by analysing the works of eight living Indian women painters residing on the subcontinent. Analysis of at least one image by each artist discloses that, like Caur, they boldly incorporate a personal ethos in piecing together their identity by painting the body, portraying the strength of Indian women in facing multiple and often contradictory social roles.

This thesis then traces the progress of images of women in Indian art in order to discern an evolution from previous objectified forms prevalent since the Indus Valley civilisation. It is argued that the image of women has indeed evolved in modern times, becoming both contested and celebrated by women painters as they often incorporate their own sensibilities, emotions, criticisms, and experiences on the canvas.

This research and critical analysis suggests that contemporary Indian women painters are confidently carving out an important space for themselves in the Indian art world, as well as universally. Dramatically examining the intersection of public and private worlds through their paintings, these artists are passionately representing Indian women’s varied experience, forging their resilient identity as they establish their place in the world of Indian art.