The Mandeville Gallery presents Sultana’s Dream, a portfolio of twenty-seven linocuts created in 2018 by contemporary artist, Chitra Ganesh, and published by Durham Press. The portfolio will be on exhibition in its entirety from February 7 to June 20, 2021.
“Inspired by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s early twentieth-century story of the same title, the prints—all black linocuts on tan paper—both illustrate elements of the text and use its imagery and themes to explore urgent topics of the political present.
Hossain’s 1905 short story begins in reverie: ‘One evening I was lounging in an easy chair in my bedroom and thinking lazily of the condition of Indian womanhood.’ The narrator soon is led on an oneiric stroll through Ladyland, a utopian matriarchy where women have harnessed the power of the sun to live prosperously and efficiently. Education and compassion for refugees are paramount, and men remain indoors, in domestic spaces.
Ganesh literally interprets certain moments from this pioneering work of feminist science fiction: the opening scene in the easy chair, for example, or a military battle won by wielding an inventive solar weapon. Other images describe and build upon Ladyland’s architecture and environment, further elucidating the vivid atmosphere that Hossain created. Like much of Ganesh’s work, Sultana’s Dream engages these subjects through the lens of history, literature, and mythology not only to examine the relationship between imagined and lived worlds but also to consider how utopian fantasies might be realized.”
– Durham Press, 2018
Ganesh wrote in 2018, “This project is inspired by ’Sultana’s Dream,’ a utopian text conceived in 1905 by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, an early Bengali feminist author and social reformer. Educated thanks to the support of her elite family, Hossain was one of the few Bengali women of her generation writing in English. ‘Sultana’s Dream’ was completed over the course of an afternoon. First published in the Indian Ladies’ Magazine, a women’s literary journal based in Madras, the story appeared ten years before Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s iconic feminist utopian novel Herland. ’Sultana’s Dream,’ though not as well known, holds a singular position among early feminist science fiction. This series of prints draws on Hossain’s vibrant imagery, translating a narrative written in verse into a visual grammar that connects with problems shaping twenty-first-century life: apocalyptic environmental disaster, the disturbing persistence of gender based inequality, the power of the wealthy few against the economic struggles of the majority, and ongoing geopolitical conflicts that cause widespread death and suffering. Created in print—a medium that is historically foundational to the idea of public discourse—these works comment through form and content on this fraught moment in the world, demonstrating the enduring relevance of feminist utopian imaginaries in offering an invaluable means of envisioning a more just future.”
Accompanying essay by Saisha Grayson, curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, can be read here.
View 3D Virtual Tour: This 360-degree virtual tour was created by Mandeville Gallery student docent, Mallory Nelson (Class of 2022), in consultation with the Mandeville Gallery and Schaffer Library.
by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain
First published in The Indian Ladies Magazine, 1905