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Curator Jasmine Wahi’s exhibition opened at Gallery 151 last month with an impressive line-up of artists and a powerful and important curatorial impetus. “The Least Orthodox Goddess” comes from a personal and sincere attempt to address the physical, emotional and psychological contexts under which a woman’s self-awareness and body is perceived.
Wahi has always focused her shows on ideas around the empowerment of women, lending a lens by which we see works of artists as reiterating strength rather than instigating passive sympathy. This current exhibition has conversations along that line through the works of artists Julie Heffernan, L’OR, Wardell Milan, Divya Mehra, Leila Lal, Peter Gronquist, Carrie Mae Rose, and a collaborative series by Anjali Bhargava and Swati Khurana.
The show in itself is constructed around a fictitious narrative around of a character that unequivocally embodies the idea of “Least Orthodox Goddess,” constructing a story of who this female archetype is.
The works included are meant to be looked at from what Wahi describes as “ the lens of an anthropologist and an archeologist who uses the discovery of both utilitarian objects and cultural evidence to create a well-rounded understanding of a newly discovered civilization.” Gronquist’s Untitled (2013), a taxidermy deer head with gilded gold horns that grow out into weapons, function as symbols of power, much like traditional religious iconography. Here, though, a new language for power is being created. It’s a language of empowerment rather than oppression through specific symbols.
Adding to the lexicon is Carrie Mae’s Agave Aureole (Our Lady of Guadeloupe). The audience has a chance to be surrounded by the installation that is reminiscent of a fiery halo. Other work like Leila Lal’s Peep Show 1/ Peep Show 2 alludes to our innate voyeuristic attitude when it comes to our own sexual inquisitiveness.
In Wahi’s show you are given a positive language around the image of a type of contemporary woman and asked to construct her story, sometimes as a viewer and at other times by immersing yourself in her world. This is most visceral in the photograph by Anjali Bhargava, whose title, The Least Orthodox Goddess, inspired Wahi to expand the idea into the namesake exhibition and was done in collaboration with Swati Khurana. As a part of a series called “Unsuitable Girls,” The Least Orthodox Goddess, sits here invoking the Pieta. Here is a weighty religious icon with a very particular narrative that the artists rework in order to build a complex visual vernacular confronting contemporary race and gender politics.