The female gaze takes centre stage though art

In an attempt to steer away from the male gaze, this artist creates digital works that explore themes related to female sexuality.

author_img Anjani Chadha Published :  23rd June 2022 12:11 PM   |   Published :   |  23rd June 2022 12:11 PM
Photographs doodled on by Yasha Shrivastava; (2 & 4) works by the artist. Photo | yasha Shrivastava)

(1 & 3) Photographs doodled on by Yasha Shrivastava; (2 & 4) works by the artist. Photo | yasha Shrivastava)

Women—and their bodies—have long been objectified and represented in art from the perspective of a man. In fact, English art critic John Berger has dedicated an entire chapter in his 1972 book Ways of Seeing to demonstrate how the male gaze operates. “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at,” he writes.

In an attempt to transform such representation—it has plagued literature, art, and cinema alike—Yasha Shrivastava (29) creates digital illustrations that explore ideas of female sexuality and desire from a female gaze. Her Instagram account (@earthy_folk), on which Shrivastava uploads these digital artworks, has gradually taken the form of a micro-blog. “In a society where women are viewed as the second sex, and have had to endure and accept cultural norms throughout history, I want to use my art to bring forward female gaze,” she says.

Making a powerful statement

Shrivastava—she is a graduate of the College of Arts, Mandi House, and is currently pursuing her research from Madhya Pradesh—often juxtaposes her self-portraits with doodles in an endeavour to create a feminist statement. This amalgamation serves her objective of highlighting discourses around sexuality and gender. “The body has always signified liberation for me. I relate a lot with the final piece,” she says.

The idea of acceptance and self-love is often a central theme in her work. Scroll through her images, and you will find one where Shrivastava can be seen standing in a room with the door ajar. In this work, figures of five naked female subjects have been digitally added by the artist. “This [juxtaposing photographs with illustrations] is a subconscious thought. It helps me inhabit an imaginary landscape, one where anything is possible. It also explains my identity and the way I see the world as an artist.”

The artist’s illustrations, often erotic, can be seen as conscious and artful attempts at “sexual exploration, female empowerment, and challenging the taboos of depicting sexuality”. In that sense, her work is definitely feminist but gender-neutral. By working on erotic art—she is inspired by Chinese and Japanese erotica— Shrivastava strives at “outward manifestation of the self’s emotions, thoughts, feelings, and observations”. 

Imbibing a native ethos

Remnants of indigenous and folk arts can be observed in Shrivastava’s work. Case in point: an image of the artist has been doodled on with stick figures symbolic in tribal art. A black and white colour scheme is dominant in her artwork. “With the black and white scheme, I feel I can express my thoughts better. It allows for spontaneity,” she concludes.