Daughters of India: Art and Identity
Stephen P. Huyler
Abbeville Press Publishers, 2008
263 pp., $65.00
One in every six women in the world lives in India. It is a testament to the strength of their spirit that they rise against patriarchal institutions to express themselves so uniquely, as shown in Stephen P. Huyler’s Daughters of India: Art and Identity. Twenty women – entrepreneurs, artists, and more – are profiled in this gorgeous book with 250 lush, colorful photographs taken of the women, their art and the environment around them.
The women differ in that some are Hindu, some Christian and yet others Muslim. A few view themselves as artists while others would be surprised to be identified as such. Each woman in the book, however, has her own individual and compelling story to tell.
I’d like to highlight the chapter featuring an older woman named Bidulata, in “Welcoming the Goddess.” In Indian society, the home is the true center of spirituality and several hundred million Hindus worship the Divine Feminine as the primary focus of their daily devotion.
In Bidulata’s region of India – the Puri District, Orissa – the Goddess Lakshmi is invited into one’s home as a guest once a year. Lakshmi is the goddess of abundance and prosperity, and the women start with a thorough cleaning and eventually transform their homes into temples for the Goddess. This is done with elaborate wall paintings — of banana trees, lotus plants and more — made out of a rice paste. Even small footsteps are painted on the floor to guide the feet of the Goddess. Food is prepared and blessed, and prayers for good health in the family are whispered at the shrine.
Bidulata – known as “Maushi” (Auntie) – is a widow. Many Indian widows find they hold little value in their communities after the death of their husbands. However, Maushi is truly holding her own as she became a teacher who is in popular demand and is treasured by family and neighbors.
Huyler states in an author interview: “[Indian women] are strong, resilient, self-reliant, and deeply determined to make changes for themselves and for the future. While not sugar-coating their trials, Daughters of India is about some of the many ways that women overcome adversity with profound spirit and self-empowerment.” Indeed, this book carries a strong message of women’s empowerment, and a portion of Daughters of India‘s proceeds benefit organizations such as the Global Fund for Women, the Self-Employed Women’s Association, and Folk Arts Rajasthan. Learn more at the Daughters of India‘s beautiful Web site, http://daughtersofindia.com
Review by Diane Saarinen
Diane Saarinen is a New York-based writer and tarot reader. For more about Diane, please check out her tarot blog at http://wavelengthtarot.com.