‘Come Inside’ Kali is not blasphemy, it empowers women, says artist


BLASPHEMY! That’s the response from the South African Hindu Maha Sabha to an art exhibition of a 12-metre deep walkin vagina which represents the power of the Hindu goddess Kali.

Gauteng artist Reshma Chhiba turned heads with her controvers­ial exhibition at Constituti­on Hill Women’s Jail in Hillbrow entitled Come Inside.

People were invited to walk without their shoes through the vagina which was made of 100 metres of red cotton fabric with a soundtrack of screams and mocking laughter.

Ashwin Trikamjee, president of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, said Chhiba had ignored a basic principle as a Hindu.

“One cannot use religious symbols in the pretext of creativity and in the process blaspheme against Hindu belief.

“Creativity in art is not a licence to use the Hindu religion to legitimise the artistic symbols – no matter what they may be. I find her art to be offensive.”

But for 30-year-old Chhiba, her art is about empowering women. She said the “vagina was a space where all power was centred”.

While raised in a Hindu home, Chhiba said her work was depicted from a Tantric Hindu perspectiv­e rather than a Vedic.

“The vagina and tongue are metaphoric­al of defiance and power which Kali represents for me personally. In no way am I being blasphemou­s against Kali as I am a worshipper of her.”

She added: “Kali is widely misunderst­ood. Hence the reason why many people choose to worship other deities. Her image as a defiant female is embodied in all females.

“She is an empowered figure and all women can tap into their goddess or their Kali and experience it.

“Women today, especially Indian women, tend to be dominated and submissive to their partners. With this in mind the empowering is for all race groups, not just Indian. It’s for women all over the world.”

Her first solo exhibition was that of the Kali and research was intensifie­d over the years.

“My curator Nontobeko Ntombela and I began talking about the exhibition, hence the title: “Two Talking Yoni’s.” Yoni is Sanskrit for vulva.

Chhiba said there had been a lot of response, both negative and positive, when she was building the exhibition.

“For me the most telling was a former inmate who was jailed at that prison. She came to enquire about the exhibition and understood it. For her it was a symbol of a battle cry which the woman at the jail experience­d.”

Chhiba said she found it disappoint­ing that people who did not see the artwork were making comments.

“I think it is unfair to comment on something you have never experience­d. Art is about expression and interpreta­tion and people need to respect that.”

Dr Raj Govender, senior manager at the Department of Arts and Culture, said as an artist Chhiba had ventured into a territory that would receive a lot of criticism.

“However she is bold and courageous and has researched the subject matter well. Artists must be given the right to freedom of expression.”

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