The art of poetry often elicits a mental visual more complex and seductive than any concrete image, however, one of the few exceptions may be Indian paintings. “Aesthetic Worlds of the Romantic Heroine in Indian Painting & Poetry”was a talk given by Columbia University Professor Allison Busch and The City College of New York Professor Molly Emma Aitken at Mount Holyoke. Because this discussion focused on “India’s preoccupation with the musicality between text and image,” language was a central idea in terms of art. In fact, Professor Aitken declared that “Words are full of visuality.” This visuality translates the concept that the discussion revolved around: Indian love is special with its own flavor.
After walking into Gamble Auditorium, it became clear that the audience was somehow all connected in someway. There was a camaraderie between the people seated there, waiting to hear the presenters. This was reflected in the friendship of the two professors. Aitken and Busch shared the role of the presenter in a flawless and charming way. When one was speaking, the other contributed with colorful bursts of humor and helpful side notes. Unlike other art-based events, this was more of an interaction with the audience. The presenters engaged the crowd in a thoughtful way, and they not only encouraged the audience to participate in their lecture, but they taught the crowd important words in multiple languages that became relevant to the art that was being displayed and discussed.
This lecture focused heavily upon the features of the female body. It discussed, not only physical aspects, but also abstract demeanor like sly glances exchanged between an interested suitor and a coy woman, as well as the lyrical beauty that these motions and airs inspired. The words that were taught to the audience mirrored this. These words, such as “śṛṅgāra,” which means “erotic sentiment” in Sanskrit emphasize the inherent desires and forbidden romance found within Indian poetry and painting. Furthermore, not only does this type of art accentuate the female body, it portrays what the culture believed to be the “iconic woman.” This woman, unlike the women we have read about in Victorian Literature and Visual Culture, in order to be considered iconic, must be innocent, but also skillful, coquettish, and completely stunning. Instead of being ideal as a maiden, this woman is ideal as a possible lover and seductress. The appeal does not lie in what is present, but in what is subtle, aromatic, and an enigma.
The main artist that was discussed during this lecture was Abd al-Rahim. He was a poet that brought to life many of the features that are present in depictions of subjectively beautiful women. He created “the Bather,” who is consistently seen stretching her arms above her head, playing a musical instrument, serving food, or as a mother. These different roles are repeated throughout different art and seen in works by other artists.
Other than as a mother, however, this woman, who is defined as a heroine, is primarily a sex symbol, a server, and an entertainer. Although she is romanticized in a number of different ways, the viewer cannot escape the fact that she is relatively subordinate to her make counterpart. She is there for their well-being, comfort, and pleasure.
“Aesthetic Worlds of the Romantic Heroine in Indian Painting & Poetry” was a fascinating discussion regarding the role of the perfect woman’s image, as well as how her muted sexuality is conveyed to the viewer. The poetry that is frequently incorporated within the artwork attempts to layer the image with this fantastical sense of viewing an otherworldly, unattainable, yet desirable woman. Professors Busch and Aitken stress, however, that the depiction of this woman does not represent one person, but represents an idea. The musical quality and movement of Indian art underlines this abstract concept.
Victorian literature and visual culture compares and contrasts with Indian poetry and painting. It is both similar and different. The ideal woman in Victorian literature is not only innocent, but she is continuously chaste. Even after marriage, she attempts to retain her purity by controlling and suppressing her sexuality. In contrast with Indian art, her sexuality is not waiting to be awoken at the right time, but forever manageable and hidden. In both cultures, however, it is interesting to note that women as mothers is a reoccurring interpretation of what is considered attractive.
This lecture integrated multiple ideals, concepts, and mediums of art, but focused on women. The art of women, the art of their bodies, and the natural versus posed beauty they present is in and of itself another medium. Due to the dancing and upraised motions of the painted women, they embody this musical quality. Because of the poetry surrounding their figures, they embody the language. Indian poetry and painting becomes this physical aesthetic that is illuminated by women.