What Must Be Said, 2015, oil on canvas
The artist’s preparatory drawings and sketches for this monumental oil painting made for the exhibition explore the public lives of women as a procession of feminist images. She draws women and searches their body language in public spaces for gestures “of fear, of shame, or surrender.” Imagery in these sketches records women standing in a line, silent, clad in Kerala saris or burkas, watched by two men in uniform with awful sticks, the silent horror of a limp body at the head of the line, women and men standing around a fire. These may refer to the satyagrahas, who burned industrially manufactured British cloth, and reverted to hand- spun cotton. Satyagraha literally translates to “truth-insistence” a term coined in 1908 by Mahatma Gandhi for transformative, nonviolent force in the Swadeshi nationalist independence struggle, a philosophy of civil resistance that was based on an economic strategy of self-sufficiency within a community. Other sketches recall historical women’s movements and the revolutionary movements that took place in Kerala in the 19th century. Women who covered their breasts in the presence of higher castes, faced violent repercussions until 1859. Maaru Marakkal Samaram, or the Upper Cloth Mutiny, was a revolutionary struggle by women, including those in the communist party, for the right to cover their breasts in Kerala. The artist says the “colonial presence helped progressive thought and social change in Kerala. The Dutch colonial book of medicinal properties of plants, Hortus Malabaricus, published between 1678 and 1703, was the perfect example of this. The story behind the book was a kind of epic.” Over 90 botanists, doctors, and artists in Kerala are said to have collaborated on this book, crossing caste barriers perhaps for the first time.
Sosa Joseph may have very few women artists around her, but shares a connection with the Kerala artist T.K. Padmini (1940–1969), recognized as the first female modernist painter from South India to depict women around her in her work, and their passion and ideas for women’s freedom. Joseph’s works appear to see through the idealism of the State of Kerala’s matrilineal, communist-informed, 100% literate society, a state of affairsin spite of which the city has not succeeded in removing gender and caste inequalities. Her work may be read as a feminist deepening and widening of the figure of the “Marxist comrade.” (ZC)
Sosa Joseph (b. 1971, IN) was born in Kerala, where she studied painting at the Raja Ravi Varma College of Fine Arts, and then at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. Her work was featured in Intimate Revelations, Schneider Museum of Art, Oregon, 2006, and the First Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Durbar Hall, 2012.
She lives and works in Kochi.