Are Indian Women Failing Science or Is Science Failing Indian Women?

This is a question troubling many young minds, inside as well as outside the scientific space. Scientific institutions in India claim to have made policies as well as programmes to encourage the participation of women in Science. However, despite such efforts, female scientists are still raising issues of gender inequality in science. Why, you ask? Simply because scientific institutions in this country have closed their doors to people on the margins, and opened it only for the powerful minorities.

This ‘gated-ness’ of science is precisely the issue feminists are tackling today.

An individual’s access to science is highly dependent on their social location in society. Needless to say, for a woman, her gender determines her accessibility to science. From being pushed into careers such as nursing, social working, women are advised to get into professions which have ‘feminine attributes’. Today women are breaking the culturally ascribed timetables for them, and entering the world of science which has been monopolized by men. Even though women are entering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, the real question to ask is — are they treated as equals in practise? Are they given the same opportunities as men to lead and to control?

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The above image, one of a team of women celebrating the success of India’s Mars Mission in 2014 swiftly went viral on the Internet. And it started a conversation about the gender inequality within the scientific community, one that has been pertinent over generations.

Women in science are visible as the ‘second sex’, but not as scientists.

Gender bias has permeated at a graduate level, promotional and performance levels, not giving proper credits where its due, salary and funding events. In fact, starting from school itself to professional occupations in science, Indian women have lagged behind in the race to become scientists.

The under-representation of women in the field of science is reflective of the obvious gender imbalance in science in India. Numerous scientific institutions in our country provide evidence for stark gender disparity by pointing towards marriage, child care, and family responsibilities. Interestingly, such duties are not expected out of male scientists as they are of female scientists. As a result, this implicit understanding implies that women are not suitable to advance in their scientific careers compared to their male counterparts.

Upon a closer look, a pyramidical structure is visible when it comes to the entry of women into science. That is, we see a lot of women entering the scientific domain, however, lesser and lesser women make it to the top. Why so? Simply because a lot of young women are forced to opt for ‘soft’ scientific professions such as teaching, so that they are ‘less pressurized’ and can easily balance work and family life. In fact, many women in science are not taken as seriously as men in terms of career advancement as they might drop out in order to cater to their ‘future roles’ as wives and mothers.

Apart from such implicit biases, women continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields mainly because of the lack of female role models to look up to. The reasons for this may be two fold — the lack of women in scientific careers or, the lack of recognition (and therefore, visibility) for women who are already pursuing these careers. For women, the road towards science is a bit foggy. If many women have not taken up the road to science, how are young women supposed to visualize their future path to science? How can women be something that they simply cannot see?

Many parents as well as educators inculcate the idea that males are expected to major in sciences or economics in higher studies, while women should study humanities or ‘arts’.

Such shared assumptions, and sexist exclusionary behaviour classifies males as ‘systematisers’ and women as ‘empathizers’, thus demoralising a lot of women who are yet to make their career choice.

Or for that matter, even while parents explain science to their children, the usage of the term ‘he’ is used instead of ‘she’, thereby indirectly informing their children that science is an activity pursued by males. Such gendered stereotypical language acts as mechanism making a distinction between who ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ do science. Unfortunately, this can diminish not only children’s interest in science, but also compromise the diversity of future scientific workplaces.

The topic of women in science unfolds the complex ways by which the scientific space is shaped by hidden power, privilege, and exclusion. Only if we start viewing science as a personal and social activity, instead of an impersonal one, can we decolonize science. That is, to uncover the implicit gender bias that exists within it.

This article was published on: https://thefilmybabe.com/bridging-the-gender-gap-in-science-1a03c736047b

 

Brian Jungen |Prototypes for New Understanding

 

In an exhibition titled “Prototypes for New Understanding”, displayed at the Vancouver Art Gallery, one encounters artist Brian Jungen’s creative endeavour — a unique hybrid creation of Nike’s Air Jordans with aboriginal masks. This synthesised creation merges elements of tradition and contemporary, and carries with it undertones of commodity fetishism, alienation, and consumerism. By integrating the sacred and mundane, Jungen’s sculptures not only encourage multiple ways of seeing ordinary objects, but also reflect an unconventional symbolical meaning.

Upon looking at the masks, one perceives the mass-produced Jordans as signifiers of eliteness and comfort. Perhaps, the reason for using Jordans amongst other shoes can be attributed to the notion of sanctitude attached to the shoes itself. As an average price of Air Jordans is estimated to be ranging between rupees ten to twelve thousand ($150 – $180), it is quite clear that these shoes are exquisite. They seem to have a pristine quality, satirising the quality of an artefact placed within a museum space.

Further, this enthralling dichotomous creation can be associated with Duchamp’s “ready mades”— the urinal. Just as Duchamp took an ordinary object, placed in the walls of a museum and tagged the object as ‘art’, in the same light Jungen has taken a pairs of Nike shoes and has placed them within a museum calling it art. However, in the process of placing the Jordans in the sacred space of a museum, their original meaning becomes lost. As a result, the viewer tends to attribute meanings that have absolutely no connection to the object’s original purpose.

Moreover, taking a closer glance at the shoes, one may notice that the shoes remain in their most original and unaltered form. Along with that, in many masks the “made in …” tag is also visible. Since the shoes are primarily made in third world countries, the artist draws a vital connection between the Jordans and the workers present in such countries. His work draws attention to the issues of the exploitation in Nike sweatshops. In the capitalist model, the consumers spend around hundred dollars on each pair, while the sweatshop workers receive less than quarter of that per day, resulting in alienation from the product itself. However, the moment the Jordans become linked to money, buyers start to view the objects as inherently carrying value instead of taking into consideration the amount of labor which has gone into creating the object. As a result, the Jordans become perceived as a fetishised commodity.

Jungen’s idea is simple: to re-contextualise daily objects in order to give them a new definition and meaning. The artist through his work conjures the masks into existence by using human hair in few of the masks, thereby creating a sense of eeriness around them. Further, it appears as though the artist is making an anthropological reading about the cross culture resemblance between Nike’s consumer culture and aboriginal culture. By using pigments of red, white, and black, the artist might be subtly trying to hint that the giant shoe brand Nike could be borrowing designs from a previous culture.

In essence, Jungen’s unique Nike masks symbolise themes of commodification, alienation, and critical expressions of contemporary consumerism. As the title of the exhibition “Prototype for New Understanding” suggests some type of experimentation or modification, Jungen has truly changed the manner in which masks may be perceived in the eyes of the viewer.

 

Colour in the City of Mumbai| Eye on Poland: An Exhibition of Vibrant Polish Graphic Designs

Whether one acknowledges it or not, we are witnessing the dawning of a new age — that of an image based culture, where the power of the visual, especially that of graphic design, is affecting a significant part of human life. One such prominent example is that of Polish poster art, which has established a unique position in the field of graphic design in the European subcontinent. It is in this context, the ongoing exhibition at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum titled ‘Eye on Poland’ aims to bring Polish graphic design to the forefront for the audience of Mumbai.

In collaboration with the Polish Institute New Delhi, the exhibition is co-curated by Magdalena Frankowska and Artur Frankowski, showcasing the evocative, yet aesthetically pleasing graphic design visuals. The exhibition displays an array of cinema and concert posters, CDs, album covers, providing an insight into the contemporary art practices of poster design prevailing in the Polish field of design. The exhibition is not only awe-inspiring in terms of the visual language, but also reflective of the complex historical and emotional engagement with poster art in Poland.

A tradition which is over a century old, the emergence of Polish poster art can be traced back to the communist rule which dominated the country during World War II. During that period, Poland was a victim to censorship and oppression, and the only art form which prevailed was that of the poster — mainly for cultural propaganda. As a result, leading Polish artists invested all their passion and effort solely in the enrichment of poster art, which later on laid the foundations for the ‘Polish Poster School’. Poster art then, often became perceived as a form of escapism from the dull atmosphere created by the communist regime.

However, even though Polish poster art during the 19th century carried with it undertones of a socio-political milieu, contemporary Polish poster art has transformed into an art form in search for a new expression of visual vocabulary. This growing tradition has been incorporated in the current exhibition, which brings together works of Jakub de Barbaro, Edgar Bak, Ada Bucholc, along with many other contemporaries.

For instance, in the exhibition, Grzegorz Laszuk’s poster titled ‘Romeo Juliet’, reflects the mood of tragedy, capturing Romeo falling into the hands of his ill fate, evoking feelings of desolation and hopelessness adding on to the viewer’s aesthetic experience. Equally intriguing is Ada Bucholc’s illustration for the cover of British magazine ‘Little White Lies’, which is renowned for its movie reviews and iconic covers. This cover, inspired by the movie — Maps to the Stars, features legendary actress Julianne Moore. The cover uses bright hues of pink and yellow, resembling prints made by pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

Another piece titled ‘The Locomotive/Ideology’, depicts a monochrome text designed by artist Małgorzata Gurowsk, showcasing images of trains, Jews, troops, homosexuals, as well as animals. This poster carries undertones of anti-semitism and racism, further signifying the dark days of Polish history. Equally fascinating is the poster titled ‘Animals’, designed by Robert Czajka, which shows various animals in warm tones or orange and brown. The design template has given a modern twist to children’s story books by using the technique of minimalistic drawing.

Furthermore, other art works in the collection combine robust colours, mottos, and ordinary symbols to send out concise messages while keeping in mind a certain aesthetic sense. As curator Frankowska remarks, “The idea behind the exhibition is to take the viewer on a voyage through a wide range of styles, attitudes and design strategies reflecting the richness of the current Polish graphic design scene.”

However, one must keep in mind that the art of producing Polish posters is viewed as well as sold exclusively in spaces of museums and art galleries. Nevertheless, the sophisticated, vibrant, and aesthetically sound posters in the current collection have typified the spirit of the tradition of Polish poster art, aiming to make these posters accessible to a worldwide audience.

S. H Raza | Aarambh @ 93

Indian modernist, Syed Haider Raza unveils his new solo exhibition at gallery Art Musings in Colaba, titled ‘Aarambh @ 93’. The painter’s oeuvre comprising over thirty paintings is characterised by his depiction of Bindu. The dynamic, yet aesthetically pleasing dot, or how Raza would describe it — Bindu, is a visually stimulating image, resonating a mystical energy creating a dialogue between the image and the viewer. In this particular series, Raza’s vivid imagination allows him to explore a new visual idiom engaging with notions of creation and existence.

Upon entering the gallery, the first painting which caught my eye was ‘Hartiabh’. The geometric pattern represents a symphony of lines, incorporating a triangle and a circle. The cold colour palette with shades of blues and greens creates a mood of tranquillity and collectedness, leaving the viewer with a feeling of contentment. The Bindu, which is strategically positioned at the top, draws the viewer’s gaze, and causes it to focus from top to bottom. The artist has beautifully juxtaposed the colours and texture to create a sense of conflict as well as harmony between the elements.

In my opinion, the Bindu signifies a narrative of an existential anguish. The circle signifies creation, and the triangle represents destruction. If one looks at the composition with a mortal dimension of our human existence, the crookedness of the lines could perhaps symbolise the discourse of a life filled with ups and downs. However, one must not fret upon such imbalances, as nothing is permanent — not our sorrows, nor are we. This further engages with existential questions of life itself— despite knowing nothing is permanent why do we humans dwell upon joy or sadness? If we do not cherish the moments of joy, or engage with disorder, then what is after all the purpose of life itself? Are we just mere actors on a performative stage incapable of deciphering the telos of life? 

From the collection, the painting titled ‘Samavesh’ has an element of fascination. As a viewer, the centrally dominant Bindu evokes an overwhelming feeling. In my opinion, the impact of this work can be felt only when one is standing right in front of it. The black coloured Bindu, appearing like a black hole, is a space looking out into the void. A sense of mystery, enchantment and fear prevails in the image. Furthermore, the surrounding bright hues of blue, red, yellow, and white could perhaps resemble water, fire, land and sky, thereby complimenting the Bindu. The Bindu then, resembles a ubiquitous mass, a part of the cosmos, as a bearer of all of nature.

That being said, Raza’s work continues to be popular amongst art connoisseurs. He till date continues to push the limits of experimentation with the motif of a Bindu, producing and reproducing timeless pieces of art.

Gauri Gill & Rajesh Vangad | Fields of Sight

A collaboration between photographer Gauri Gill and Warli artist Rajesh Vangad, which takes you on a journey away from the urban complexities present in Mumbai, creating a dialogue between two people from different walks of life. This hybrid creation is solely done in a monochromatic palette, and is an amalgamation between photography and indigenous Warli painting. In 2013, Gill was invited to an Adivasi district in Maharashtra – Dahanu where she was to create works for a primary school. During her stay there, she was welcomed by Rajesh Vangad who let her reside at his place, and later on took her to various locations which had significance in terms of folklore and political activity.

As the duo moved from location to location, capturing different landscapes which speak volumes, Gill decided to place Vangad as the protagonist in each picture, trying to capture the sentiment of each location. However, the images were not simply of the Warli painter placed against the backdrop of a landscape, assuming a passive role. Instead, the images incorporated Vangad’s Warli inscriptions on top of each photograph, positioning the painter in a much more active space.

As a viewer, there are several elements which one must pay attention to. For instance, the monochromatic tones used in the photograph mimic the manner in which Warli paintings are traditionally done – white pigment used on a reddish-brown background.Furthermore, this monochromatic theme can be viewed as a way of acknowledging the art form.

If we also closely look at the painting-photographs, we see that the protagonist’s gaze never matches the viewer’s. To me, this mismatch of the gaze symbolises a sense of loss, desolation and alienation. In each of the images in the series, the painter seems to be positioned in a certain manner in the landscape, where he seems to be in engaged in deep thought, speculating over a series of events which had taken place in each respective landscape.There seems to be a sense of nostalgia which can be sensed through the body language of the artist present in the frame, reminiscing about a certain “there and then” as contrasted with a “here and now”. Perhaps, this sense of melancholy stems from the socio-political conditions which are inseparable from the environment.

The Adivasi village has been through series of political turmoil. During the 70s, the village was intruded by gangs and political parties, leaving the locals displaced, frightened and terrorised. Apart from the raids conducted by the mobs, the village has witnessed forest fires, landslides and other such natural calamities that could leave the protagonist who is also the member of the village in a grieved state.

As the technique of Warli paintings depict themes of harvest, fishsing, fertility, festivals, earthquakes, tsunamis and other events which impact the lives of the community members, the inscription of such themes in the pictorial frame brings a sense of life into the pictures. As a result, the pictures seem to have a narrative of their own, speaking volumes of a particular scene.

Thus, it is important to note that we must not just look at tribal art in isolation, and locate it in another time frame and render it as stagnant and static. We should acknowledge the art form as we acknowledge any other. This indigenous art form has navigated its way from inscriptions on manure coated walls to canvases. For instance, noted Warli artist — Jivya Soma Mashe, has showcased her work alongside artist Richard Long in Europe.

Saviya Lopez| Menstrual Art?

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The year 2015 has witnessed an extraordinary focus on the menstruation of women in social media. For instance, the photo-sharing website/app – Instagram got itself tangled in a controversy of events when it decided to remove photographs of artist and poet – Rupi Kaur, who had posted images of herself lying on a bed with a period stain. This ‘censorship’ of menstruation photos has resulted in a wider process of encouraging the taboo around the word ‘period’. However, after the artist challenged the removal of the image, it was restored back on the website.

In this day and age, there is a dire need for people to transform from a more passive to an active audience. Furthermore, there is a need to demystify the aura around menstruation, and recognise the agony which is faced by women from around the globe. Artist Saviya Lopez, who is currently exhibiting her work at the Clark House initiative, a Mumbai based gallery, has targeted this mystification around the politics of menstruation. Her work, which is being displayed as a part of a larger exhibition titled ‘River with a Thousand Holes’, addresses the link between the status of women and the degradation of the environment.

In the image above, one sees that the bloodied words speak out against the discrepancy between what is real and what is being represented in the advertiser’s practice of showcasing blue instead of red on sanitary napkins. As the artist beautifully captures the parallels of dual realities of menstruation, the exhibition has strong political overtones of ecofeminism. Eco feminist epistemology forms a link between ecology and feminism. Furthermore, the approach shows how women and nature have a strong commonality, thus are united through their shared history of oppression by a patriarchal society.

However, the issues surrounding menstruation lead me to question : how should one fight for women’s rights if the category of ‘women’ is not homogenous? Unlike previous ideologies, which for the longest period of time have looked at women as a uniform category, today’s feminist ideologies go beyond homogeneity and move towards heterogeneity. There has  been a significant shift in feminist movements, which has paved the way to give enough room to acknowledge each individual’s subjective bodily experiences. Women are certainly different from men, but even more from one another. Thus, an upper caste Brahminical woman will certainly have different notions and perceptions regarding menstruation compared to a lower caste Dalit woman.

As the topic of menstruation seeps into the work of women artists, women have started to be even more vocal about confronting their subordinate status in society. Art, as I feel, is being used as a medium to convey strong ideas that have deliberately been silenced by androcentricity. After looking at a work of art, one tends to converse or write about it in order to share one’s thoughts with a wider audience…..resulting in a large encompassing process of social change, big or small.

 

Valuing the Devalued Tangible Cultural Heritage.

“Bombay has the second largest number of art decor buildings after Miami. However, unlike Miami where an entire precinct was restored, making it an international tourist attraction, here we do little to preserve our heritage.” 

-Sharada Dwivedi, veteran historian and researcher.

Mumbai, as we all know, is a land of plurality due to an amalgamation of many cultures. Each culture needs a platform to showcase its elements of tradition, belief, value and knowledge systems, which ultimately gave rise to the notion of cultural heritage. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has described heritage as, “The entire corpus of material signs – either artistic or symbolic – handed on by the past to each culture and, therefore, to the whole of humankind. As a constituent part of the affirmation and enrichment of cultural identities, as a legacy belonging to all humankind, the cultural heritage gives each particular place its recognizable features and is the storehouse of human experience.” (Draft Medium Term Plan 1990-1995, UNESCO, 25 C/4, 1989, p.57) However, due to unpleasant defacement practices showcased by citizens of Mumbai, the city’s epitomized glorious cultural heritage is nearing its end.

However, the on – going processes of urbanization and modernization has lead humankind to reach a stage of ‘anomie’. With reference to French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, one can say that humans have become more and more individualistic as opposed to their primitive counterparts whose societies were closely knit, where sharing was the norm. This progression towards individuality has made humans confused about their role, further confused about why the past should matter.

In Indian context, citizens too find themselves in this ‘state of anomie’ in relation to cultural heritage. The majority of citizens of the country have deluded themselves into assuming that there are no strict laws which are propagated towards the preservation of these monuments, therefore making citizens believe that it is acceptable to project any sort of defacement to the heritage monuments. What intensifies the situation is that even though there are laws present to prevent defacement crimes, they still seem to offer minimal form of protection.

The most primitive works of art have been items such as totem poles, engraving on caves, painting on slabs and fertility dolls. As these end up being heritage sites in today’s times, what makes them unique is the presence of ‘aura’ around it. Critical theorist Walter Benjamin (2003) in his book ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility’, has closely examined the concept of aura and termed it as authentic. However, it must be noted that what gives rise to this authenticity is the amount of rituals that go into the making of a heritage site.

There is a cultish characteristic associated with a heritage site, this includes; emotion, vision and religious significance which is strictly observed by the artist during the making of the site. According to Benjamin Walter (2003), The artwork’s use value was located in its central position within ritual and religious tradition. Hence, the aura illuminated from the monument is the after math of the work of art being uniquely woven into time and space. 

However, today the world experiences a ‘loss of aura’. This phenomena stems from the fact that people are unaware of the holiness attached to the monuments and hence end up destroying historical sites instead of preserving them. This not only results in the destruction of the aesthetic experience of the monument but also ends up disorienting the intimacy present between the maker and the site. This intimate bond is the onetime-ness of the experience. What is meant by this is that, the moment where the object meets the maker that very situation cannot be replicated or reproduced, therefore must be preserved through various conservation projects.

As the issue of authenticity is a fragile topic, Abdul Rehman (2011), a renowned professor of architecture remarks “In any conservation project there may be three areas where one has to be very careful to look into the different aspects of authenticity. These aspects are to maintain, to preserve, and to safeguard authenticity.” If these three aspects are taken into consideration, only then can the claim of preserving and conserving of a heritage site  be authentic. Sadly, in the city of Mumbai, many do not seem to understand the loss of aura and authenticity around heritage sites, consequently resulting in these sites to be threatened by uninviting acts of tobacco spitting, graffiti, urinating, throwing of food and plastic bottles or infrastructure projects.

Co-founder of Infosys, N. R. Narayana Murthy has effectively highlighted the crux of the situation in one of his speeches given at Indian Institute of Management. He has stated that Indians have a certain loyalty towards their family. However, this loyalty is only reflected in the family sphere and not in the community sphere. Murthy (2003), “In the West – the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand – individuals understand that they have to be responsible towards their community.” Furthermore, he states that the primary difference between Indians and the West is that, the Westerners have a much better societal orientation. They care that they have for their society is much more than the Indians have for theirs. Furthermore, this links to enhancing the quality of life of Indians.

Apart from a dire need of social change, it is advisable that more security personnel should be appointed at heritage sites to preserve them, along with that it is necessary that the security personnel are made aware of the historical background of heritage structures so that they have a strong will to protect heritage sites. Another issue to be focused on is that of creating orderly environments with respect to heritage sites, as that would encourage adherence to social convention and overall conservatism, whereas disorderly environments would encourage people to seek novelty and unconventional routes (Stenger, 2013).

Furthermore, with the implementation of smart designs and concept of placemaking, pathways could be construed with biodegradable and non-biodegradable dustbins at every 3-4 metres so that visitors have no where else to throw waste. Also, indigenous people people who have been living around areas of heritage sites must be asked for their opinions regarding preservation and conservation of heritage structures, as they have existing ancestral knowledge regarding techniques of maintaining the integrity of heritage sites.

Thus, India being so diverse, so vast in terms of geography and cultures, if citizens actively seek to preserve what little is left of the past, what will enhanced will be quality of life along with the nation’s aesthetic beauty linking people together as human beings.