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Inflation is Deflation

Nancy Adajania

Vidha Saumya’s suite of drawings, ‘Love Charades’, revel in a volumetrics of exaggeration. Her women protagonists literally let themselves go, their bodies ballooning into gargantuan forms. They laugh, flirt, mount each other, hold the moon, scream, fly, freeze into a limbo. But this hyperbolic charade is not presented in the realist or hyperrealist style of the day. Instead, it is stylised into a sumptuous sensorial feast produced through the use of an elegant, almost calligraphic line. A darkly gorgeous pattern marks each body as it rises and ebbs in a sea of flesh. But the skin of these bodies is like porcelain, bleached of colour and light: the massive shapes that it encases writhe before our eyes, and yet they look as though they had been embroidered from thin air.

Saumya’s works occasion a strangely ambivalent erotics. While the elaborate masquerade performed by these wild women protagonists is flagrantly on display, and their gaze is often directed at the viewer, we draw a blank when we wonder who they perform for. Do they perform only for themselves? Their anchorage is each other’s embrace: their bodies touching, leaning, falling over each other, erase the boundaries between self and other, between bodied self and self-in-transit.

Their collective carousing, then, is not an exhibition of mere revelry but a ‘carnivalesque’ (in the Bakhtinian sense) [1] resistance to the patriarchal commodification of the woman’s body that is now pursued in the name of the aspirational consumerism that is integral to the ethos of global capital. Rather, than conforming to a lean-mean advertorial template, these women’s bodies explode in the face of the viewer with Rabelaisian laughter.  The relentless commercialisation of women’s bodies in India, in recent times, can be traced back to the 1990s when the Miss India pageants gained widespread popularity amongst the masses. According to the feminist scholar Kumkum Sangari, the  ‘third-worldisation’ [2] of the international beauty contests (about two-thirds of the winners and half the runners up in the 1990s were from countries such as Venezuela, India, Trinidad and Tobago, Botswana, Russia and South Africa) coincided with the significant lack of interest in the ‘first world’, which could partly be attributed to strong feminist protests in the West, partly to the sheer tackiness and boredom associated with these events, and partly to the fact that the middle-class market for beauty products had been nearly saturated in the industrially advanced nations. This shift of the beauty pageant to the ‘third world’ can be traced back to the dumping of cosmetics into former socialist and developing economies and the promotion of a prejudicial idea of beauty (often premised on outright racist axioms), which would keep the transnational cosmetics industries in business forever. It isn’t surprising that, two decades later, the Indian beauty industry is saturated with redundant  products that women don’t need, but must have.

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