Male authors have always remained distanced from their male protagonists. A male protagonist is instinctively assumed to be a fictional individual who is not the author himself but his brainchild. A female author, however, is routinely blended with her female protagonist, whose exploits –romantic or sexual in particular—are perceived as the author’s self-projection via fiction. A creative woman is thus involuntarily trapped in an autobiographical trope invented by patriarchy that denies her the full agency of an author. This project resolutely challenges that convention.
Meenakshi Sengupta has built an environment that introduces us to an unknown woman’s domain. This gallery, which is also its owner’s personal residence, is transformed into a fictional space filled with populist patriarchal signifiers –several of them folkloric—that define and characterize femininity in Bengali culture. Yet here they defy their prescribed roles. Sengupta’s thoughtful wits, sarcasms, puns, and ironies manipulate their original meanings to articulate an incisive critique of gender inequity. They contain a range of emotions, from inaudible sobs for unfulfilled dreams to contempt for a culture that deifies women only to confine or exclude them.
Sengupta strategically intervenes in a space that is both private and public to claim total authorial agency. And as we navigate her protagonist’s world, we are provoked by lingering questions: who is this woman whose privacy is offered for consumption? Is she the artist’s other self, an oblique reference to the gallerist, or a hybrid metaphor that exposes the artifice of Bengali gender roles?
–Sunanda K Sanyal