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Sutapa Biswas
'The owl and the pussycat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat
They sailed away for a year and a day
To the land where the bong tree grows'
Edward Lear

Sutapa Biswas' artistic practice maps an intellectual landscape of feminism, diaspora, cultural identity and playfulness onto powerfully visual images. The viewer is invariably nudged into participation by the frisson that underpins her multimedia approach. The embedded dialogues between temporality and imagination, rites of passage, anxiety, loss, love and motherhood, act as powerful triggers.

In 1966 aged three and a half Sutapa Biswas left India with her mother and four siblings by ship, to join her father who for political reasons had to emigrate to England a year earlier. The light from the porthole and the blue of the sea, within the restricted confines of a cabin, during a long voyage, became both a portal and a retinal image later recontexualised in a number of works.

Biswas' practice emerged in the 1980's when issues of race , sex and gender were being articulated by artists and critics such as Keith Piper, Isaac Julien, Griselda Pollock and Mary Kelly. The influence of her academic Marxist father who believed in possibility and empowerment, combined with her degree course at Leeds University culminated in a questioning attitude. Griselda Pollock, her tutor, stated that Sutapa Biswas named the 'Imperialism that still structured analysis and spoke in undifferentiated terms of class and gender never acknowledging issues of race and colonialism' thereby identifying an 'absence'.

Biswas' inquiry resulted in a performance where her 'examiner' was subtly interrogated, hooded and placed in the centre of a circle while Biswas performed enacted 'resistance'. This 'act' gave voice to her abiding concern that her work 'explored the intersection where landscape gender and identity meet with art history'. Her final degree show in 1985 included Housewives with Steak-Knives a large mixed media work - designed to sit forward from the wall -which explored her Asian heritage, imperialism, anger and love. The visual metaphor of Kali, the destroyer of evil, is portrayed as an Asian woman set against a white background. Her four outstretched arms sport hands covered in red, one, uplifted in a sign for peace, becomes an arresting aggressive gesture. Loaded motifs such as a flower, a flag and a necklace of political 'villains' are coupled with the menacing knife of the title being brandished aloft. An art historical reference to Judith Beheading Holofernes c.1620 by Artemisia Gentileschi invites a traumatic feminist allusion. This further activates the liberating power of the image whose duality was meant to ' humour and terrify' the viewer'. This work predicates the complexity of signs and referents that continue to characterise Biswas' artistic career reaching back over the last nineteen years.

Still from Murmur by Sutapa Biswas, 1994
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