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Betwixt hair and wings

Curator and critic Georgina Maddox presents an evocative reflection on the works of Ritu Kamath at the Lalit Kala Akademi. Maddox refers to authors Gananath Obeyesekere, Alf Hiltebeitel, Barbara D. Miller – Hair – Its power and meaning in Asian Cultures (1998) in a section titled Confucian Korea: "Uncut, however, does not imply unruly. The long hair was never allowed to hang freely. It was controlled: knotted or braided in particular ways, each style specifying aspects of the wearer's social position. Children's hair was parted in the middle and braided, the long braids hanging down their backs, boys with one braid and girls with one or two (Bishop 1898:127, Rutt 1972:25)."
Among the many works on display, it is the hair series that catch your eye. Ritu says she thought of the series as an autobiographical echo-a release from the bondage and rules and regulations that one has had to follow because of dogmas that tame and tie down a woman's hair. In this series, lustrous lush locks of braids and long strands spill over onto an eight-foot-long charcoal sheet of paper giving us a universal semblance of locks plaited as well as long and languorous tresses that fly with the gust of wind.
To Maddox in a conversation Ritu affirms:
"Hair is a powerful metaphor in the Hindu mythology. The myths represent traditional sacred stories, typically revolving around the activities of gods and goddesses and heroes that purport to explain natural phenomena or cultural practices. Tracing back the importance and significance of human hair to the dawn of civilisation of the Indian subcontinent, we find that all the Vedic gods and goddesses have used hair to convey a message."
"Draupadi is the greatest example," states Ritu. "When Dushasana pulled apart her Triveni (triple braid) at the dice game, the Kauravas did not just defile her, they tore apart familial ties and the dharmic order, say scholars."
"Hair-binding in Indian culture has been traditionally associated with femininity, her role in society, her duty and deference to her husband. For the next 13 years, she kept hers unbound, signifying that the Pandavas lost their marital rights to her. Neither Draupadi nor the world could be pure until dharma was restored."
In an age of cancer and the aftermath of chemotherapy in many parts of the world, Kamath treatise on hair makes us stop and think about the whys and wherefores in a world that is built on pretensions and practices and everyday idioms of dos and donts in customs and culture-specific dialogues. On a historical mythic context these monochromatic drawings of hair present a flashback Greco Roman tales and the many legends of men and women who had long lustrous locks and therein lies their ageless dimension.
Uma Nair

Uma Nair

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