B.Prabha (b.1933) was one of the most prominent women artists of post-Independent India. She was born in Bela, a town near Nagpur and studied at the J.J School of Art. Prabha became known for her graceful, elegant depictions of working women. In her paintings, we meet women from different social backgrounds and get an intimate glimpse into their world. It is believed that Air India started its widely known art-collection with her artworks from the 1950s (when she was still a student).
In the mid 1960s, B.Prabha travelled to Kashmir, documenting the valley and its women.
Take a careful look at the panorama-style painting above. In her signature style, B.Prabha spotlights the local community and occupations of ordinary people: the boatmen, the artisans and craftspeople, the agricultural labour and even a man selling birds! Take another look : how many signatures of Prabha do you find? They’re almost hidden away in different parts of the painting.
During her career, Prabha worked with different mediums. In her Kashmir series, notice her powerful, detailed observation of the women, their costumes and jewellery. In this painting for instance, you spot the popular ‘Alcahor’ – a type of ear jewellery which rests over the ear and is connected by a chain running over the head.
The painting offers us a glimpse of the famed cultural symbol of Kashmir : a ‘shikara’, which is one of the main modes of transport in the region. The boats are usually made of deodar wood, and come in various sizes!
In the painting, both women wear pherans – long loose cloaks that go below the knees. These are mostly made of soft wool, and are embroidered. They even wear tarangas (embellished head-dresses).
Untitled (Two Women)
The painting shows two women holding baskets – it is usual for women in Kashmir to pluck harvested saffron flowers (usually purplish in colour). First cultivated in Greece, saffron has been grown in the Kashmir valley for centuries.
B. Prabha’s women of Kashmir exude the same silence as her other Maharashtrian women. She once famously remarked :
I am yet to see one happy woman.