Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Obsession with Sita and Sight, Part 1

I’ve always had a great interest in women and feminism in dance and Indian mythology.  But a few years back, two things happened.

1) I took a course called South Asia: Continuity and Change taught by Professor Uttara Coorlawala and read several articles about the "male gaze".
2) I suddenly took note of the a ridiculous amount of performances/artwork obsessed with retelling stories, particularly from a female perspective.*

*(Her Story by Srinidhi Raghavan and Sahasra Sambamoorthi; Stree by Mythili Prakash; Sita Kavya by Krithika Rajagopalan; Shakthi, The Power of Women by Mallika Sarabhai; Sthree by Ragamala Dance Theater; The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni; Sita's Daughters by Mallika Sarabhai; Sita's Story (unverified title) by Chandralekha; Sita Sings the Blues by Nina Paley; Sitayana by Srinivasa Iyengar to name some of the more popular few that I knew of)

What was this artistic obsession with giving women a voice through art? Where was it coming from? The final straw occurred when I saw Sita Sings the Blues at the Tribeca Film Festival.  The topic was everywhere I turned, essentially inescapable. And so I became intrigued.

It is a vast amount of subject material I have undertaken and a difficult topic to explain completely, and years of research can only really do justice to it. However, I have attempted to offer an analysis based on the evidence I have found (much of it observational) in the hopes that it might spark later discussions.

As I have pointed out, there is a clear and rising trend of the feminist point of view being touted and extolled by the dance world.  This has been particularly true of the Indian community, retelling its ancient lore through the mediums of art and writing, from simple ideas such as removing it from poetry form and into prose to more complex ideas such as telling them from a different perspective.

This global trend has concentrated on much of the same subject matter over the past 20 years, growing in size every year. The greater bulk of them are of the performing arts variety, concentrating on retelling it from a female point of view and furthermore retelling the Ramayana from Sita’s perspective. It all leads to one question:


Though there are a vast multitude of reasons and probably hundreds of influences; many of them boil down to or are derivatives of four simple ideas. These four reasons I have named as “The Feminist Trend”; “The Backlash Effect”; “The Indian Interpretation”; and “Traditional Values”; are also all connected themselves, intertwined in a way that makes them difficult to separate and explain...

Hopefully you're intrigued enough to check back over the next few weeks as I've attempted to clarify it over a few separate posts...enjoy my fumbling attempts :)

Sitayana: Epic of the earth-born = Sitayanam

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