Bihar's ode to girl power comes alive in a landmark exhibition

Bihar's ode to girl power comes alive in a landmark exhibition

Curated over four months, Women and Deities is an exhibition of excavated artifacts of women from Bihar museum’s reserve collection. Art historian Alka Pande took Business Today on a tour through the show.

Art historian, Alka Pandey, curator Women and Deities Art historian, Alka Pandey, curator Women and Deities

The imagery of the Indian woman through the ages as they travel over decades depicts the feminine as an empowered entity. Art historian, Alka Pande spoke to Business Today about how she perceives the future of the femme. The exhibition opened on August 7.

BT: It took you four months to curate Women and Deities. Take us through it.

Alka Pande: This exhibition, which opened on August 7, features 156 antiquities from the Bihar Museum's reserve section, as well as 10 works from the Bihar Museum's contemporary gallery. So let me just tell you about two unique aspects of this exhibition. One is that no museum has ever shown an entire reserve collection, at least not in India nor have they juxtaposed women from everyday life, social life, royal palaces, and deities, which are gods and goddesses, in an exhibition.  My conceptual design was that because it was Women and Deities, we should circumvent them because women are, in my opinion, a very powerful segment of our society. I don't like the term ‘feminist’. So, I like to use words like powerful feminine. A woman is outstanding whether or not she works in a household. She is an artist as well as speaks on the subjects of fertility, abundance, and nurturing. Therefore, whether they are made of terracotta, bronze, stone, or miniature paintings, you may discover different perspectives as well as modified versions of women, such as those who carry out everyday household duties, work in royal harems, or appear as princesses or goddesses. So, we are just celebrating women and ourselves.

BT: There is a lot of prevailing discussion about the crucial need for empowerment in the present day. But when I walked through the exhibition, I only saw imagery of the empowered feminine reflected through the collection that you have here. So when and where in history did the ‘need’ for empowerment start?

Alka Pande: As someone long ago told me, you were most powerful as women, but you gave it to us. Men are quite smart when it comes to assuming control; consequently, patriarchy entered our social consciousness probably in the medieval period because if you look at pre-modern India, you see there was equality. Or perhaps it is if you consider the idea of Ardhanarishvara, which is a conception of Shiva who is half male and female, perfect complementary relationships exist. And this complementarity or this equality was unquestionably seen in pre-modern India, whether it be in the poetry or whether it be in the religious text, where there were female priests. However, at some point, I believe patriarchy began to infiltrate society quietly and very, very furtively as men took the role of being outside and earning while women were given the responsibility of running the house.

BT: In a war-torn world, if not too abstract to ask, do you think the world today needs more feminine soft power?

Dr. Alka Pande: Well, I'm the greatest believer of soft power and I think everybody realises it today. You look at the head of the EU, women are known fabulously well, of course, everybody has to pay a price for being where they are. But having said that, I think in today's world women cannot be discriminated against for mental or physical abilities. They are pilots, supervisors, and economists. So, I think women cannot be kept down anymore as those days are gone. There definitely is a need for soft power because, without soft power, there's no society.

BT: Do you think that the masculine polarity in corridors of power needs to be balanced?

Alka Pande: I don't think polarity works for anyone. I don't even believe that women should become so powerful that men are emasculated; otherwise, there will be a gender divide in values. There must be inclusion and mutual respect – whether man or woman.

BT: Given the backdrop of this discussion and how the world is shaping gender participation, what is your observation on the idea of women standing up for women?

Alka Pande: You're talking of a very utopian bond. I think women for women would be the best thing because they're so bright, smart, and sharp, but a woman is another woman's greatest enemy as well. Women are so sharp and because they've been repressed for so long, they have had to fight and not bond. If they bonded well enough, they could be a force to be reckoned with. I think we really need women for women. We really need the support of each other's sisterhood. That's why they say, ‘hey sister’!