Amrita Sher-Gil

Amrita Sher-Gil, Self-Portrait as a Tahitian, 1934, oil on canvas, Collection of Vivan and Navina Sundaram, installation view, Neue Galerie, Kassel, documenta 14, photo: Mathias Völzke

In Self-Portrait as a Tahitian, Amrita Sher-Gil performs her corporeality as a field of citation. As one of the most striking self-portraits among several composed throughout the brief span of her life, this painting implicitly chronicles Sher-Gil’s biographical lineage as a citizen of the world—born to a Sikh aristocrat father and a Hungarian mother. The painting was completed a year after she finished her studies at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Re-situating Paul Gauguin’s representational claim over “exotic sexuality” in the South Sea Islands and the migration of oriental forms in European art, we are presented instead with an altered frame: rather than playing the innocuous muse, this artist assumes the role of both subject and author, piercing through the white colonial gaze. During her later years, which she spent at her family estate in Northern India and an extended visit to Hungary (1938–39), Sher-Gil painted intimate scenes of rural domestic life, hillside landscapes, local ceremony, and animals in exuberant tones inspired equally by Brueghel’s scenes of peasant life and Mughal and Pahari miniature painting traditions, complemented with the impressions from site visits to historic monuments such as the caves of Ajanta and Ellora.

Posted in Public Exhibition