The Private is Political: Dhea Kothari
April 1st – Fall 2021
Union College junior Dhea Kothari’s oil paintings honor the history of Indian miniature painting, while telling the story of her generation through political examinations of contemporary Indian society. She also works in watercolor to depict an array of female emotive powers, divinely embodied, and in the medium of printmaking to bring unrepresented goddesses to life. Although the mediums vary, Kothari’s artworks have a unifying strength of conviction, as well as technique.
An aspiring clinical psychologist and artist, Kothari is from Mumbai, India. Following graduation, she hopes to complete a PhD in psychology and obtain a painting and sculpture MFA in visual arts.
“My paintings address concepts of gender and form a critical view of the surrounding social, political and cultural issues. My recent work revolves around the day-to-day life of South Asian women and explores the heavy burden of being a woman in a patriarchal world. My work consists of miniature narratives and still life paintings that aim to capture domestic scenes in South Asia. I record the thoughts and beliefs of the people of a less progressive India and try to create parallels for a more modern India tomorrow. I collect references from the Indian miniature style of painting and vintage photographs of my family. I mostly work with oil paints and frequently incorporate layered patterns.
Over the past year, I’ve created two series: Love Messages in Quarantine: Men in the Kitchen and The Private is Political: Taboos Surrounding Menstruation. The title of The Private is Political series is taken from notable feminist Carol Hanisch’s famous 1970 slogan and essay title, “The Personal is Political.” For this series, I created six by eight inch oil paintings on wood panels to depict the persisting presence of menstrual stigmas in India. In rural parts of India, women do not have access to hygienic menstrual products and use toxic materials like ash to absorb the bleeding. Even in urban cities, pharmacists wrap menstrual pads in newspaper, so as to hide the product. When it comes to menstruation, families do not openly engage in conversations about menstruation with their daughters, effectively treating it as a taboo. Instead, they reinforce the conservative cultural belief that women are impure during their periods and cannot be touched. I painted this series in Indian miniature form to depict the intrinsic qualities of religion, culture, and tradition. Through these works, I want my viewers to understand that often dismissed women’s personal hygiene struggles are rooted in ongoing, gender inequality.
Similarly, my Love Messages in Quarantine series consists of eight by eleven inch and eight by eight inch oil paintings on wood and canvas panels. This work was made during India’s response to COVID-19 through a 50-day complete lockdown of the country. Whilst most urban Indian households hire help, the onus of running the household lies on the woman’s shoulder. During this time of quarantine and social distance, the consequential loss of hired help has caused a major shift in men’s involvement in household chores. The role of men has dramatically advanced during this lockdown period to equalize domestic duties and include active participation in household chores, especially in the kitchen.
While my works are a form of appreciation for both women and men, I also want this series to be a reminder for us to continue sharing these ideals and love messages long after the pandemic is overcome. I want equity of domestic expectations underlining this social movement.”
– Dhea Kothari, Union College Class of 2022