A Living Archive: Women’s Absences and the Painterly (Re)inscriptions of the Gendered Nation

Miranda Imperial


In recent years, within the concept of the archive there has been an ever-increasing notion that points to a repository for classification, cultural production, a locus for keeping the records of history, a paying tribute to memory, whilst, simultaneously, registering as much as what is kept as what is lost. My paper is a work-in-progress, and, as such, an exploration of what I call a “living archive,” an archive in the making, where, by recourse to a culturally rich repository of images of Indian women as represented by Indian women artists along the twentieth century, I will address women’s invisibility from official history. Generationally arranged, my choice of painters includes Sunayani Devi (1875-1962), Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941) and Nalini Malani (1946-).  Women artists in all these cases were privileged and educated, and developed a career in the Fine Arts. They all show a great interest and concern in the role of women within society, and they have portrayed and captured women and women’s relations and work with attention. In most cases, they exhibit a feminist or proto-feminist awareness.  From the visual format of the canvas both in historical perspective and at present, I will attempt to discuss how their work and their valuable repository of images is certainly evidence of significant historical and cultural change.


archive; representation; painting; Indian women painters; Sunayani Devi; Amrita Sher-Gil; Nalini Malani; Indian nation

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