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

Post - - Front Page - JO­LENE MARRIAH

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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