Ashmina Ranjit has created a buzz over the years by declaring, through bold installations and art exhibitions, that Nepali women have live, throbbing bodies under all their cultural trappings, and that these bodies are very much in women's own control. Now she has taken her feminist message to Aomori, Japan, much to the delight of the local women-and men.
Currently at a three-month residency at the Aomori Contemporary Art Center, Ashmina has held five art workshops for over a hundred girls and women from age 3 to 70, discussing the body, sexuality, and gender politics. She then asked them to draw and paint, on dresses that she provided, their views about their own bodies.
"It was wonderful to see their self-expression," Ashmina says of the workshops. "I was amazed to see that the youngest girls expressed themselves in much the same way as the oldest women-with simple rainbows and flowers. Most of the high school girls focused on the breasts...and women in the 30's chose very abstract expressions." It was, she says, as much of a learning experience for her as for the participants, whose cultural background is repressed and modest, as is Nepal's.
The workshops proved so popular that men, too, requested a similar workshop for them. "At first I thought they were joking," Ashmina says. "But it turned out that they were serious. So now I'm planning to conduct a workshop for men, too." The men get to paint on traditional Japanese phundo-shii (which Ashmina says is very much like the traditional Jyapoo tunic-and-trousers) which will later be placed on display.
An installation piece titled "Uplift", incorporating all the dresses, is on display at the Aomori Contemporary Art Center from 26 October till 24 November.
Ashmina will remain in Aomori throughout this period, enjoying the region's famous apples and its unique culture. She will be working on a video of women enjoying themselves at a hot spring (sounds good), and using this opportunity to explore her own creative work, side by side with sound artists, installation artists and performance artists from Portugal, Canada, Finland, Germany, France and Japan.
Then it's back to Nepal for her-to conduct art workshops on the body, sexuality, and gender politics for Nepali women? Hopefully. And maybe even for Nepali men?