Brave New Woman


Samina Mansuri and julianne Pagano, artists and friends from different cultures, explore the mystique of woman in their oils, displayed at Chawkandi Art last month.

For Samina, who returned from New York after eight years, where she studied graphic design and painting, these paintings – a year in the making – mark a transition. From her earlier detached architectural forms, her iconography has now become more personalised. Today her symbols are organic, speaking of fecundity and femaleness.

Thematically, most of Saminas work revolves around the sexuality of woman: her conflict between body and mind, her desire to achieve motherhood, which she has either deferred or denied herself for career concerns. Ripe fruit is important to Saminas iconography. Multi-seeded fruit like pomegranates and custard apples feature as a metaphor for the boundless potential of woman, both as a procreator and an intelligent worker. In Head with Pomegranates I, the tussle for supremacy between physicality and intellect is evident as a horizontal womans head rests at the feet of two standing legs. The head seems to float in a sea of ripe red pomegranates, luscious and rounded like the body of a woman in her thirties, with whom the artist identifies. The colour red dominates, symbolising child-birth.

Metanoia (Sharifa II), depicts a surrealistic landscape of custard apples crumbling in their over-mature form, from which a fallen head rises. This symbolises a woman reborn on the strength of her intellectual powers.

Away from the concrete jungles of New York and Chicago (her home town), the American julianne Pagano looks to nature for metaphors of relationships and emotions: she has used the lemon fruit and hibiscus frequently in her work. The influence of traditional and forms is visible in Chattering Girls (Evening I), as she groups profiled faces in a style popular with Mughal miniaturists. Her hibiscus is reminiscent of Chinese water colour studies of flora on screens and scrolls. She, however, combines them with other elements with the freedom of an expressionist. This composition has a linear, horizontal movement created by the intertwining branches bearing the exquisite blooms. The riot of pink shades light up the grey sky like fireworks with delicate petals and turgid stamens reaching up. Filling the bottom of the canvas are four chattering girls visible only up to the chin. This painting is vibrant with youthful energy. Rain and the River Indus is a tribute to the life-giving monsoons. Julianne has painted it in a sombre moss green with thin pigment running down like raindrops on a wall. Two window-like rectangles reveal the sky and silhouetted faces against it. The green of the lemon fruit symbolises the life cycle of all living things. This painting speaks eloquently of the artists observation of the changing face of nature.

Both Samina and Julianne have used the frame as an extension of the canvas. In Juliannes Chattering Girls, for example, the diagonal strands of red rose garlands painted on the flat wooden surface of the frame lend the composition a festive air. Metal wire scrolls decorate Saminas painting of sea shells, giving it an embossed quality.

However, not all the paintings convey their respective messages as the concepts are often far stronger that the skill employed to express them. Saminas canvas with the womb-shaped head seems lacking: a bright void dominates the work; the two embracing figures in Juliannes lemon fruit series are too heavy, too rigid to lend interest to the painting. Nonetheless, the work displayed is reflective of a fresh approach, reflecting the need of women to articulate the changing reality of the woman of the 90s.