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Exposing the feminine psyche through art

Anthropologist, author and artist Katharina Kakar describes herself as a cultural ‘bridge-builder’, living in Germany and India thus giving her both an outsider’s and insider’s view of culture. All set for the exhibition of her works, ‘Flow of Power – Shakti, Sensuality & Sexuality’ at Gallery Gitanjali on March 19, in this conversation with NT BUZZ she delves deeper into cultural beliefs, and opposing patterns of behaviour.
Danuska Da Gama I NT BUZZ
The theme of Katharina Kakar’s makes a strong statement; even before one goes on to view the 20 installations and assemblages. ‘Flow of Power – Shakti, Sensuality and Sexuality’ tests the feminine psyche and its long struggle with patriarchal boundaries which are both blatant and subtle. Her works on display at Gallery Gitanjali are an attempt not just by the artist but also the feminist – pushing boundaries and evoking debate, confronting and drawing the viewer into her exploration of women’s power, sensuality and sexuality in India today.
“Is it relevant today in modern India?” I ask.
“It is very relevant today. We need to keep the debate on. Whether literature, media or art. In one way or the other we need to express things, ask questions and get people involved,” says Katharina, fondly known as Katha.
She says for her the challenge lies in finding visual bodies for subjects that are not easy to project. “I try to do that by using my imagination to imagine the viewer’s imagination to relate to objects.”
The artist feels that not just in India but everywhere there is a need to keep the dialogue open on women issues – not just between women, but also between women and men. Having studied anthropology and comparative religion, tackling such issues is something she has been dealing with through her art and writing for over twenty years. “Understanding the feminine psyche and struggle is an issue that is really close to my heart,” she says.
Stirring and inciting viewers to explore the innate strength of women, female perspective on women’s sexuality and constant play of power dynamics affecting lives of women, particularly in India and the reclamation of that power. Her works include a wide range of everyday items from onions and chillies, cloves and coconuts, wax, metal, clay, fish, ash, and even impressions of her the parts of her own body to unmask the feminine psyche and struggle with the patriarchal boundaries in India.
“Chillies for me signify a very strong feminine power. These treated chillies are a potent metaphor for inner heat, desire and passion – symbolic of female fertility, sexuality and rage too, making it an ideal tool to express my thoughts,” says Katha.
Katharina has been working with the subject for over 20 years – reading philosophy, feminist theories, which forms the major part of her expression and art.
While her works have been appreciated at various exhibitions including the solo exhibition held in Delhi, she agrees that it probably isn’t reaching the right audience. “Obviously, it is difficult for my art to reach to the villages when I am showing it in urban spaces and galleries,” she says. She goes on to say that at some point she plans to take her installations to villages and see people’s reactions there.
Katha would like to believe that her works act as cultural signifiers through ‘bridge-building’. Post marrying an Indian, she made India her home and studied Indian culture and fell in love with the place. Simultaneously, she would like to perceive herself as a well-informed outsider.
“I have been in India for a very long time – that’s the insider gaze I have. I never lose my outsider eyes, for I am a European by culture. So there is a way of distancing yourself and looking at structures – how a culture functions,” she says, explaining how her ‘outsider’ ‘insider’ viewpoint sheds a new angle.
Talking about how women’s sensuality and sexuality are terms to be discussed secretly or kept under wraps in India, Katha says that this mindset evolved only recently and wasn’t so in the past when books like the Kamasutra were written, or the art, music and dance or the times were performed. “All this shows that it was a highly sensual culture, which was a very Indian concept,” she says.
Sadly, she says that we are now living in a time where sexuality is suppressed. “Women are not encouraged to express themselves and are termed cheap if they do.” She is of the opinion that women need to step out and have the courage to express love. Her exhibition plays around love, sex and our lives. They call for attention against grave gender issues of rape, female foeticide and domestic abuse. “There’s nothing wrong to be open about sexuality. If man and woman is informed about sexuality, sexual needs, eroticism and so on we will create a much better society; where society which secretly looks at porn as good sex will be done away with,” she says. She thinks issues like meaningful sex and love need to be addressed.
The language she uses is both intensely sensual and playfully sculptural. The artist-writer often uses her own body as a muse to create pieces of art representing the human body. Having recently published a book for the western audience about Indian women, she has tried to break the stereotypes, without negating the violence, but rather to give a deeper understanding of the cultural structure.
Her exhibition questions the role of tradition and the constraints faced by women in the 21st century. “Therefore all my work is extensively based on experiences I have had with women across India. It is all based on what I have seen and experienced, and there’s a lot of reading and anthropological aspects that form the base of my artwork,” says Katharina.

(‘Flow of Power- Shakti, Sensuality & Sexuality’ by Katharina Kakar will be open for viewing at Gallery Gitanjali, Fontainhas, Panaji from March 19 to April 19.)

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