“There is a special place in hell for women who don't support each other”
– Former Secretary of State, Madeline Albright
As a woman , I think about how many times in my long career I have encountered or been the recipient of thinly disguised misogynistic behavior and often blatant sexism, discrimination, gas lighting, weaponized words, all aimed to diminish me. Then I think about how many other countless women have had similar experiences. The inappropriate conversations, judgments and debilitating obstacles we encounter and suffer through - just to be seen, heard, or simply respected.
The global frustration by women is evident and continues to be at the forefront of politics, including the conversation about gender inequality in India. Discriminatory practices still affect the lives and mental health of so many women, where being banished to your home by your husband or father is not uncommon. Studies show that almost a quarter of a million young girls are killed each year in India simply because of their gender, one-third of the women are illiterate and spousal rape is not illegal.
SPANDITA MALIK, an artist from India who recently graduated from Parsons School of Design with an MFA in Photography has created some of the most powerful portraits of women I have ever seen. In her new series, titled, Nā́rī ( Sanskrit for woman, wife, female or an object regarded as feminine – also meaning sacrifice), Malik takes portraits of women in India and prints them on fabric from their various regions. She then asks them to embroider on their own portraits, giving them no guidelines as to what they can or cannot embroider.
Malik’s portraits of women living in India, who are not allowed to leave their homes or in some cases do not feel safe even leaving their houses, are extraordinary. In one work, the woman not only conceals her entire face with embroidery, she then adds another layer by creating a veil, making her completely unrecognizable. In another work, the sitter shields her identity by holding up a newspaper in front of her face. Where the women have decided not to obscure their identities, one can clearly see their fatigue, strength, and pride.
These women, whose livelihoods yield 8-10 dollars a month with their embroidery, share their stories with Spandita, some include abuse or future suitors selected by their father who they hope won't abuse them.
The creative input the women impart onto their own portraits is magnificently imaginative, taking control of their images, using historical and traditional Indian patterns, creatively enlarging their room by expanding the carpet and the sky in embroidery or adorning themselves with gold thread and pearls. They dictate how they wish to be seen and together with Malik, tell their own stories.
It pains me to think of women so isolated and repressed and it's impossible to imagine the level of inequity and discrimination.
I hope Spandita Malik’s thoughtful collaborations with these heroic women, who endure more injustices in one day than I ever will in my lifetime, can empower not only these women, but women who see Malik's art works - and by sharing her portraits, they can be stunning visual and spiritual reminders that you are not invisible, you are not alone - we hear you - and more importantly, WE SEE YOU .