One of the first calls we received on the Hidden World of Girls message line was from Jean Parker, a listener who lives and works in India. She shared with us the work of her friend Shakundala, who creates stirring paintings of women who work as prostitutes.
Listen to Jean’s original call:
Here in India where I live and work, there are lots of women who might fit the description of eccentric, or living against the tide. Actually, it doesn’t take that much for a woman to earn that distinction in a culture where roles and norms are strictly defined.
My friend Shakundala is a painter of women. Most of the women she paints are prostitutes.
She has never had an art lesson yet her paintings are sold to benefit NGO’s working with prostitutes in India. About this theme, she says she doesn’t know why she paints them, just that she can’t not paint them. She says that suddenly, one day, the pictures just began coming out and that they had to go somewhere, so she began painting.
She is now quite elderly and deaf and lives in the old part of the city in a flat that leaks in the monsoon and is over one hundred years old. It’s so old that when you visit Shakundala’s house you climb up a narrow staircase that is so steep you have to use a rope to pull yourself up. The toilet is outside because at the time it was built the people who cleaned toilets were not allowed in the house. It’s one of those buildings that will someday, just give up and fall down.
She describes her painting vividly enough for radio and speaks articulately about the situations of the women she paints. She also talks about how things have changed in India from the time of the British until now.