Social Scientist. v 28, no. 322-323 (Mar-April 2000) p. 7.

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Representation of Gender in Folk Paintings of Bengal

There is a morality of the people understood as a determinate set of principles for practical conduct and of customs that derive from them or have produced them. Like superstition this morality is closely tied to religious beliefs. Yet this concept of morality is not unilinear. Within the complex strata exist the fossilized ones which reflect conditions of past life and are therefore conservative and reactionary and those which consist of a series of innovations often creative and progressive determined spontaneously by forms and conditions of life which are in the process of developing and which are in contradiction to the morality of the governing strata. [Gramsci, 1985]

In the lived experience of the contemporary Bengali folk artist the mutually opposing strands of this morality run parallel, moulding and controlling his power of expression. On the one hand his depiction of religious myths holds him grounded in the static moral order of medieval times, on the other hand, his participation in the peasant struggle against colonial rule impels him to move away from the older narrative structure through formal and thematic innovations. It is in this context that we will attempt to study the folk artist's construction of the woman image which, more than any other, allows us to enter and analyze the schemea of his fractured perception.

The human form in Indian classical art is derived from a religious iconography. As cult goddesses, mother and consort, the female deities were easily identifiable to the viewers through the myths which upheld them. Nature provided the major metaphors for the structuring of an anthropomorphic form; both male and female images were conceived as participants in the mythic narratives.

* Department of History Calcutta University, Calcutta.

Social Scientist, Vol. 28, Nos. 3- 4, March-April 2000

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