There’s a quality of melancholy about the panel of women in the foreground of Sosa's large canvas, 'What Are We?'. Veiled figures look out at the viewer, a majority with their palms linked together in front of them, their heads leaning close, the expression on their faces a little impassive as they contemplate the assortment of objects in front of them – upturned umbrellas, one with a single flip-flop, an open metal trunk, a few hens squawking, a dog, a telescope on a tripod, steel rods, coils of wire, a boat, and a miniature lotus pond with a single bloom raising its head in defiance of the chaos. The figures are all women, covered, even the little girls among them, from head to toe in a kind of shapeless garb — a burkha, perhaps, or a Christian nun’s habit, both of which are familiar sights in Sosa’s hometown of Kochi. There's a stillness about the mise-en-scène, the kind that precedes or, as seems more likely in this case, follows the storm.
Sosa's painterly inspiration is the narrative painting as developed by the Baroda School painters in the 1970s and 1980s. Her emphasis on the apparent “familiarity”, the “everydayness” of her subjects however, is also a common defensive strategy among women artists, who play down the subversive potential of their work, and contest claims to profundity, or value, under the plea that theirs is only a small, domestic enterprise. The classic expression of this is, of course, Jane Austen’s claim of working on a “little bit (two inches wide) of ivory…with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour.”
This very common, familiar world that Sosa purports to recreate imaginatively is also a gendered space – there are, you will notice, very few men in her canvases. The blurred figures become embodiments of attitude, of the female condition rather than any attempt at an exact approximation of the human form — ‘unspecified’, in other words. “Of course women’s issues are there,” she says of her art, “but it is only one issue and I don’t want to focus on only that one aspect. There are many, many layers besides.” Art, after all, is not just about making political statements.
Press release courtesy Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke.