Posted on 30-12-2012
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

I’ve often enjoyed staying at Excelsior Hotel, a stunning 1898 “Belle Epoque” landmark on the French Riveria. Now suddenly I abhor it. Reading about Simone Veil, fighter for the rights of women, children, prisoners and immigrants I wrote about last week, I discovered this luxury hotel was Nazi Headquarters in Nice, off the beautiful Mediterranean coast. From here, thousands of Jews like her lost their dignity being packed off to concentration camps. Torture surrounded Simone Veil’s life, yet she overcame it and was voted France’s most popular woman in 2010.

Historically, Christians have condemned Jews. They believed Judas the Jew fatally betrayed Jesus Christ.  Hateful stereotyping of Jews started from the Middle Ages. Christians were forbidden by the Church to lend money and charge interest, so Jews fulfilled this occupation. Every borrower who returns money does so very grudgingly. No wonder Jews were typecast as greedy and devilish. Nazi propaganda in 1920-1945 said Germans are superior Aryans, so anti-Christianity Jews should be exterminated. Many Jews in Europe like Simone Veil’s father were secular to avoid racial animosity. But Catholics who continued to detest Jews cooperated in delivering people like Simone Veil’s family to horrifying deaths in Nazi hands.

Manmade religious dogmas are dangerous; they install social class, hate, superiority and inferiority complexes. In Christian vs. Jew, did the Jews kill Jesus? Were Christians more spiritual being disallowed from money lending? These micro-sounds in the air ingrained in people’s collective minds can suddenly erupt. Twelve centuries old dogma was excavated in the 20th century for Hitler’s "Final Solution" strategy to wipe out Jews forever. In her autobiography, Simone Veil says she covers her Auschwitz death camp tattooed number 78651: “In 1950 or 1951, at a reception in an embassy, ​​a high-level French official pointing to my forearm and number, asked with a smile if it was my cloakroom number. After that, I privileged long sleeves.” Was he ignorant, insensitive, indecent or insulting?

Caste further denigrates women: If I compare divisiveness with Hinduism where the caste system originated, it may not involve fear or hate, but discord is even more entrenched. Its perpetuator, the upper caste, puts itself on top, but in every caste and sub-caste, women are at the bottom of the pile. Look at how widows are treated even among Brahmins; they wear white, cannot attend happy functions and live in penury. Society needs to stop caste as it “legalizes” inequality and makes women susceptible victims in a patriarchal society. It legitimizes women’s “place” in society as the server, not the served.

Anywhere in the world, it’s despicable when politicians play with religion to get votes. Driving the caste card, Indian politicians create dissonance to strengthen their advantage. During Independence they brought laws to treat lower castes better, but the people didn’t demolish caste. If people with conviction take a stand to eradicate caste, women’s equality problems could simultaneously be resolved. In the West, when Christians understood the danger of being anti-Semitic, in one shot they eliminated Hitler’s 3rd Reich, and created Israel for Jews. But we’ve kept caste alive in a petri dish, rendering society, particularly women, vulnerable.

In my poor refugee colony childhood, there was a slum you cross before entering our living space. A caste, poorer than the poorest, still lives there today. They provide the critical service of cleaning human shit; we called them untouchables. Their and our living standard had the same deprivations, yet we were superior. Such social fractures really need disruption to humanize society. In this lowest caste, women have no dignity, they are at the receiving end even in the family. Take daily wage labour in construction sites, women get half the pay of men doing similar health-impairing jobs. Nobody cares to implement the laws enshrined in India’s Constitution because our social practices are stronger.

I remember my grandmother saying that our poverty was an illusion of dividing Bengal in 1947. She’d say being of ‘vaidya’ caste we were destined for high professions like doctors. That obviously gave me a superiority complex; I could dream of taking an adventurous step, going to Paris. But boys similar to me at the village gateway can never dream of ever being rid of poverty or this slum. Caste is Hinduism’s real discrimination; it’s destroying the morale and self-respect of our people.

My comparative analysis: Christians created physical divergence with Jews, blaming them for killing Jesus and fabricating images of miserly moneylenders like Shakespeare’s Shylock. With caste, Hindus have created psychological and social discrepancies which can never be eroded from people’s way of living. In spite of getting bad-mouthed, Jews became great scientists, artists, singers, philosophers and doctors. But our caste system didn’t allow untouchables to rise in mass numbers, nor has woman’s self-esteem gotten any value. Women’s rape and torture would perhaps be phenomenal in everyday life. Many get to brothels because a family member sells them off shortly after puberty. Perhaps Indian brothels are flooded with socially deprived women whom we call the lower caste. Upper caste men seem to have no sexual satisfaction problem with lower castes, but will deny them social dignity at the same level. When rape happens in metros it gets highlighted. But the root cause of women’s miserable situation comes from caste divisions. Laws exist but it’s up to you and me to drive caste away, the way slavery was abolished in the West, abortion legitimized and illegitimate children given equal rights.

There’s hope on the horizon. The ZAP generation I’ve identified as change agents has displayed outstanding anti-rape solidarity without any political influence in the case of the 23-year-old who was brutally gang-raped in Delhi. These outstanding, brave youngsters have inspired other states against such horrors, and swayed authorities towards her getting medical treatment in Singapore. She symbolizes the physical awakening of India’s Zappers for women’s dignity, similar to how the French students’ 1968 movement led to Simone de Beauvoir working for women’s rights.

To download above article in PDF Caste is the Culprit

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Posted on 23-12-2012
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

I make it a point to research and authenticate non-fiction with relevant friends in multi-domain professions across the world. “Full green light. It’s a surprise for me to learn about French society from an Indian man!” wrote Jerome Buscail, my advocate friend in Paris, authenticating my last week’s article on Simone de Beauvoir’s Manifesto of 343 Sluts that led to legalizing abortion in France. Former French Health Minister Simone Veil who actually legalized abortion against rancorous opposition from men is the subject of my gender equilibrium series today.

When Britain’s 11th Armoured Division liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany on 15 April 1945 they found 53,000 half-starved, seriously ill prisoner inmates inside, and 13,000 corpses lying unburied. Simone Veil, who also has Auschwitz number 78651 tattooed permanently on her arm, was among these survivors. Her mother was among the dead. In 1940, Hitler’s Germany occupied France, and forced Frenchmen to hand over Jews for “The Final Solution,” a euphemism for extermination. The Nazi regime manipulated Catholics and Jews, the two faiths that had never mixed, like petrol and water in a container. Simone’s father, a World War I soldier who’d raised his family to be French Republic patriots, staunchly believed his Catholic countrymen would never capitulate to Nazi demands. But French Catholics were of 4 types: (1) secular, (2) sitting-on-the-fence, (3) who joined the Resistance movement together with Jews, and (4) the "colabo" who voluntarily helped identify Jews for delivering to the Gestapo. British India also had Indian traitors like Mir Jaffer who helped them conquer Bengal in 1757 Battle of Plassey. Other treacherous acts led to Surya Sen, the anti-British revolutionary, being hung for raiding the Chittagong British Armory in 1930. Simone’s family was victim to deportation in March 1944. Her father and brother perished under Nazi butchery, she and a sister survived.

“Pain is the root of knowledge,” said Simone Veil. Suffering unimaginable atrocities at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, she and her sister unexpectedly also faced brutal judgment on re-entry into France. Catholics hypocritically questioned, “How did they come back? It proves death camp was not so horrible.” Simone’s tragic Holocaust experience, humiliation and agony gave her the courage to correct what she considered as denial of rights. On her return, without succumbing to despair, she studied political science, attended law school where she met and married Antoine Veil in 1946, and even became a magistrate. She championed modernization by improving prison conditions, reforming adoption rights, providing illegitimate children the same rights afforded to children of married couples, and fought for rights of women, older adults and immigration.

In 1974 President Georges Pompidou suddenly died, and technocrat Valéry Giscard d’Estaing of a new centre right party was elected. He chose Simone Veil to be France’s first woman minister. As Health Minister, she quickly took measures to break the 1810 Napoleon Penal Code of abortion being punishable. In 1974-75, she introduced what came to be called “Veil Law” that gave women legal rights to control their own bodies. The hue and cry from conservatives and anti-Semites was inconceivable. Male Parliament Members harangued her, comparing abortion legalization to genocide, like throwing baby embryos into Auschwitz crematorium ovens. Anonymous letters condemned her, swastikas were painted on her car and house. But women from all sides supported her. "No woman takes abortion lightly. It’s a tragedy and will always be so," she said, but this right will provide safe medical care to the million French women who secretly, dangerously undergo abortion every year. With the support of Opposition left wing members although she belonged to the rightist party, she managed to pass the law permitting voluntary termination of pregnancy.

Simone Veil achieved many “firsts,” the first President of the European Parliament through direct-suffrage European parliamentary elections, and the first woman to do so. She continues campaigning for Europe as an ideal and a cause, mentioning the importance of a Holocaust survivor presiding over the European Parliament. She was the first woman Conseil Constitutionnel, France’s highest legal authority. She’s invested as an "immortal" in Académie Française, France’s most prestigious intellectual club. Yet at each stage, she had to overcome male resistance, even from a loving, learned husband who saw her as wife and mother at home, a judicial system uncomfortable with a woman judge exposing age-old wrongs in prisons, to male politicians for whom women ministers are tokens in government.

Watching a French TV literature program on Simone Veil’s published memoirs called "Une Vie," I was struck by this lovable unique woman who stood up for women’s legal rights against heavy personal attacks in hardcore Catholic French society. Yet this Jewish survivor with a tattooed number has no animosity towards anyone. She said the so-called weaker sex had greater capacity for resistance, and unlike men, women helped one another in unselfish ways in concentration camps. In 2005 she returned to speak at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau camps where I very often go to pay homage to victims there.

As I write about dignity and gender equality, we witnessed a horrific gang-rape case in Delhi with a 23-year-old girl last week. Not only did 6 hoodlums in a bus violate her in front of her boyfriend, they tortured her with a metal rod that totally damaged her intestine from the vagina. This is exactly how women were tormented in Nazi concentration camps 70 years ago. Just imagine the same has happened in India’s public space today. No women activist, law or politicization can correct such wrongs until men at large voluntarily take a vow to “respect and save women.” Law is just a written code but if execution excellence does not exist in administration, Indian women can never be safe from barbarian situations. Every Indian man of any age, from rural to city, should take this oath and put it in execution.

To download above article in PDF Death camp to women empowerment

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Posted on 16-12-2012
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Women are nothing but machines for producing children.” These outrageous words are from French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 –1821). Even though the 1789 French Revolution was clearly against discrimination, demanding abolition of the father and husband’s power, the Napoleonic laws during his reign 1804-1815 were very powerful. In fact many countries, including India, still use sections of the Napoleonic Civil Code. His repressive laws on women continued for more than 150 years in patriarchal French society.

I learnt more about this society since 1974 from Jacqueline, a well-educated and friendly classmate who spoke English as I didn’t yet know French. To attend my art college Ecole des Beaux-Arts on 14 rue Bonaparte, Paris 6, I had to get to the Boulevard St Germain metro station where there’s a café called Café de Flore. Jacqueline would take me to Café de Flore and I’d listen to her fairytale-like stories as she helped me understand French culture. This café was where I discovered existential feminist philosopher, political activist and author of The Second Sex. She’d come with her companion, Jean Paul Sartre, the existential philosopher, they’d sit and write for days on end, have heated discussions together or with other friends and intellectuals. As I’d just come from a patriarchal society, it was difficult for me to understand the concept of feminism then. My deep-dose learning about famous feminists becoming “sluts,” and existential philosophy that was in the making in Paris, began in Café de Flore.

From mid 20th century, French writer Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist writings set the tone for Women’s Lib later. In what came to be known as “Manifesto of 343 Sluts,” she wrote that a million French abortions every year are condemned to secrecy under dangerous conditions. To protest France’s anti-abortion law she got 343 notable women to declare they’d had an abortion, making them susceptible to prosecution. When a French magazine printed that on 5 April 1971, it shook the Catholic world. Society was so sensitized that in 1975 abortion was legalized in France. Their Health Minister who repealed the penalty for voluntarily terminating a pregnancy was Simone Veil, about whom I’ll write shortly in this courageous women series I’ve started.

Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex exposed that fundamental to women’s oppression is considering them as “Others” with an aura of mystery around them. Men use this as an excuse to not understand women or their problems, she wrote, and not help them. In society’s hierarchy, a higher group always stereotypes the lower group to keep them subservient. Stereotyping is prevalent in identity categories like race, class, and religion too. But in gender, it’s used to organize society into a patriarchy. Historically men are considered the ideal and women made to conform to that "normality." So women must choose to take a position of responsibility and freedom. She had no qualms in writing of her private life with lovers. Her book She Came to Stay narrates her complex affair with Sartre and their sexual relationships with Olga and Wanda Kosakiewicz. She and Sartre were a couple since 1929 but they never married because she later revealed, “I had no dowry.” Catholic society does not recognize relationships outside marriage, but making an exception, Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) and Jean Paul Sartre (1905–1980) are buried next to each other in Montparnasse cemetery.

While writing on gender equilibrium and de Beauvoir, I suddenly saw on TV news a man walking with one hand holding a beheaded head, the other a sword, both dripping blood. I was aghast. A 29-year-old Bengali boy in Kolkata pulled his sister out of her house, and beheaded her with one fell swoop of the sword in full public view. Her dismembered head rolled to the ground. The brother yanked it up by her hair, walked like a devil hero to the police station to surrender, the bloody sword in his other hand. He’d nervously chopped the hand of another woman who’d tried to stop him. His seething anger was because his sister, married with 2 children, had deserted her husband and was hiding with her lover she’d known before marriage. That such a barbarous act is called honour killing curdles my blood. I’m shaken that it happened in my native Bengal. But it seems such honour killings are not uncommon in India particularly in love marriages without family consent. It becomes more dramatic in inter-caste elopements. With TV shows airing real-life crime, these brutalities are unnecessarily becoming dramatised.

Such violence can go to court only after the disaster happens. Unless men get totally convinced about stopping this kind of atrocity, things can never change. Forget about women’s freedom or gender balance. We seem to be living in a gladiator society where anything can happen to women at anytime. Killing his own sister symbolizes the total power he feels he can exercise over her to uphold the family’s honour, and prevent her from further dishonour.  It disgracefully proves that women have no personal emotional liberty to make their own choice in love.

Just imagine, way back in 1971 Simone de Beauvoir had fought for abortion rights when 343 women signatories were disparagingly called sluts. Now 41 years later, again shamefully in my Bengal, a woman Legislative Assembly Member was beaten up by male Members, within days of the beheading incident.  In our patriarchal society that makes women submissive, such actions will always remain unless men’s attitude changes. Shockingly, even women like mothers-in-law join in to kill new brides for more dowry. Activists’ alone cannot solve the problem. Men have to be sensitized to decide and agree on a certain code of conduct towards women. When man-beating-woman can happen in the hallowed precincts of the Legislative Assembly, can you imagine what attitude can prevail in small villages and what example these law makers can set ?

To download above article in PDF Manifesto of 343 Sluts

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Posted on 09-12-2012
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Like a high speed machine gun, she throws unlimited emotion in song to the public. It’s a trait she sharpened when singing with her father in street acrobatics performances all across France from age 7. She’d become street-smart on how to instantly engage passersby to stop, see, listen and pay. Her skill of loudly throwing her voice, with no boundary, no accompaniment, and no defect got thronging crowds to provide for their livelihood.

Her public performance heritage came from her alcoholic, drug addict mother, a café singer who abandoned her soon after giving birth in 1915 in the working-class neighborhood of Belleville. I remember when I arrived penniless in Paris 39 years ago, I made every effort to avoid living in Belleville. It’s the immigrant district; Greeks, Jews and Armenians came in 1920s, then North and Sub-Saharan Africans and Chinese. I could have saved a lot of money holing up here with struggling artists and illegal immigrants from Srilanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. But having escaped a refugee colony in India, I totally shunned landing in another neglected, crowded locale. Fighting poverty initially, I somehow always lived in Paris 14th district. Even visiting Belleville upto 1990 was a cultural shock from typical Parisian life.

Her father snatched away this Belleville born from her maternal grandmother who rarely fed or washed her, instead put her to sleep with wine whenever she cried. He sent his daughter to be raised by his mother. This paternal grandmother ran a brothel in Normandy, northern France. So the singer who later became France’s celebrated superstar and icon for passion and tenacity, spent her childhood being the obsession of prostitutes. They showered all their yearning emotions on her. According to her biographer, as keratitis blinded her from age 3 to 7, the prostitutes pooled money, took her on a religious pilgrimage venerating Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, and this led to miraculous restoration of her vision.

As a teenager, she left her father and teamed up with Simone Berteaut, whom she dubbed “ma mauvause genie (my evil spirit).” They sang in the raunchy, red-light quarter of Pigalle. Quite inevitably, she got mixed up with Paris’ cabaret and club mafia. Several such gangster “protectors” demanded returns in kind, in addition, dipped into her small take-home tips. As biographer Carolyn Burke points out, “Her life with her father had predisposed her to having a boss who took her earnings and dictated her behavior.” At age 17 she bore a child who died of meningitis 2 years later.

On a Pigalle street is where Louis Leplée, proprietor of the swanky Club Le Gerny’s discovered her. He dubbed her “Piaf” meaning Sparrow; she stood just 4ft 10inches tall. This name and the simple black dress Leplée chose for her became the signature personality of Edith Piaf. Aside from innumerable original songs, she’s acted in 9 films, in a play by Jean Cocteau and wrote her autobiography. Few entertainers other than Piaf have been the prime subject of 14 musical plays, 6 films and 8 books; her songs still reverberate radio waves and are recompiled periodically.

Edith Piaf’s meteoric ascent started with her first recording within a few months at Le Gerny’s. Suddenly in 1936, Leplee was murdered by street ruffians who’d earlier been associated with her. She was devastated. Her picture was splashed in every newspaper as a suspect. She escaped to the suburbs, then Belgium, and returned only after she was proved innocent. Paradoxically, her career peaked when World War II began. During the German occupation of France, Piaf secretly symbolized the French Resistance although she performed for the Germans at the top luxury brothel called One Two Two Club. To boost prisoner morale, the Germans allowed Piaf to pose for photographs with French war prisoners who subsequently managed to cut out their own images to forge identity papers and escape.

After the war, commercial success came with European and US tours. Her first international hit La Vie en Rose in 1946 was followed by Non, je ne regrette rien, Milord, Padam… Padam, among numerous others. The lyrical magic that Edith Piaf’s voice pelts out resonates the agony of her initial parental rejection, the violence of being used by hooligans on Paris streets, and utter helplessness in losing her child. Her rise from street urchin to concert singer is as melodramatic as her unstoppable search for love.

Her tempestuous love life included lyricist Raymond Asso who taught her to see “another world beyond prostitutes and pimps, cured me of Pigalle, of my chaotic childhood … to become a woman and a star instead of a phenomenon with a voice … shown as a rare animal at a fair.” Her insatiable thirst for amour embroiled famous names like composer Norbert Glanzburg, singer and actor Yves Montand whose career she keenly promoted, movie star John Garfield, performer Eddie Constantine, bicycle champion André Pousse, lyricist Jo Moustaki, and two short-stint husbands, singer Jacques Pills and hairdresser-turned-actor-singer Théophanos Lamboukas who was gay and 20 years her junior. Her torrid “true love” romance with boxing champion Marcel Cerdan ended tragically when he died in a plane crash enroute to her.

One of my life’s biggest regrets is that I could not see Edith Piaf’s stage performance. She died in 1963, ten years before I arrived in Paris. Her example of how an underprivileged, brothel-raised street girl can fight the tyrannical world of sexual abuse women are subjected to, and emerge a glorious singing sensation is astounding. She battled pathetic health issues and morphine painkiller dependency after 3 major car accidents, but made a triumphant 1960 come-back concert at Paris’s Olympia Theater. This pinnacle of all time success has proved that women with gumption can establish themselves in their own right. The French sky cannot exist without Edith Piaf, her voice is embedded in me too.

Continuing my courageous women series, watch out for more who made a difference in patriarchal society.

To download above article in PDF Brothel-raised to singing icon

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Posted on 02-12-2012
Filed Under (WOMAN) by admin

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

“Sakountala” was her first major clay sculpture exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1888. Poet Kalidasa’s 5th century tale of Shakuntala signifies abandonment. King Dushyanta marries her, but forgets her when he’s put under a spell. When the spell breaks, he kneels at her feet and begs forgiveness. For this French sculptress, Shakuntala depicted her own destiny, her metaphysical search for her teacher-cum-lover who will not marry her. Her turbulent lifestyle and the ferocity of her emotions physically imprisoned her in a mental asylum for 30 years. I’d highlighted last week that sexuality was a factor in the career ambitions of three creative women (, but for this sculptress, her exalted inventive work broke barriers, paving the way for women artists to get due recognition in future.

Through the ages, art has displayed a gender bias against women. Today women express their personality and talent; global magazines honour the 100 most powerful women from different disciplines. Such acknowledgement of merit didn’t always happen so easily. Let me take you to 19th century Western Europe that experienced incredible waves of original art and culture . In my observation, the 1826 invention of photography by French inventor Joseph Nicephore Niepce radically changed the idea of metaphor. Till then artists were compelled to depict realism. Photographic reproduction suddenly made artistic realism redundant. This jolt liberated the non-conformists among artists. Van Gogh was the first example of those who unconsciously painted from the imagination. People labeled his work as tache (stain) not art, and contradictions marked this period’s art when painters and sculptors started to deviate from realism.

My favourite sculptress, an irrepressible genius, continued the non-conformist tradition. She started sculpting at age 12, using family and domestic servants as models. Her control over clay modeling was astounding. Recognizing her talent, her father, a state administrator, sent his family to Paris so she could be trained in sculpture. Ecole des Beaux Arts, the famous Parisian art school where I too have studied, did not allow women into their precincts then. Women as nude models could sit for hours inspiring male artists, but the opposite was totally unimaginable then. I’ve never understood men’s skepticism in barring women from artistic activities where feminine qualities of rationality, patience, aesthetics and unending emotion would fit beautifully. Artemisia Gentileschi in the 17th century was among the first women that the male-dominated, post-Renaissance art world acknowledged. However, many of her paintings got attributed to her artist father, Orazio Gentileschi. It was only in 1960-70s that a feminist artist movement came about to establish women artists.

Ignoring taboos this assertive sculptress sculpted the male body. Women artists then were denied nude male models on moral grounds. Her ‘real life heroes’ were murderers Pranzini and Troppmann, while her ‘favourite heroine in real life’ was Louise Michel, a French anarchist in the 1871Paris Commune. Her attraction to Louise’s struggle was because she typified disruptive ideas like demanding gender and wages’ equality, secular education and professional education for girls, women right to divorce, no distinction between married women and concubines, legitimate and illegitimate children, and abolition of prostitution.

Being of noble lineage, her mother opposed her sculpting as it was a male preserve. So she left home to train privately. By age 17 she became pupil to that era’s most illustrious sculptor. He was double her age, a reputed womanizer. Their fiery, scandalous affair left her parents aghast. In15 years of besotted, wild, unpredictable togetherness they produced their most inspired and creative sculptures even as they competed artistically. When she became pregnant she wanted his full-fledged attention, but he hesitated to leave his long-term mistress. So without telling him she aborted, and permanently singed their relationship. Thereafter she submerged into paranoia, believing he was persecuting her. Sinking deeper and deeper into those obsessive fears she became a recluse. But her expressive work continued to get commissions. A gallery owner sought her out to exhibit her modeled bodies. Her father protected and financed her. When he died, her mother and brother packed her off to a mental asylum in 1913.

Neither of the two lovers could forget their tempestuous love affair. Her most poetic sculpture Waltzing Couple symbolized this passion. Her other seminal works capture children’s freshness, old age decrepitude in Crouching Woman and Bent Man, while Age of Maturity was state commissioned. Being the first to experiment with ‘sketching from life’ she brought sculpture inside the home. She worked on new materials like onyx and made miniatures called The Wave and Gossips. Her fearless work rivaled her master by creating unstated feelings in human bodies.

This compelling, tragic narrative belongs to Camille Claudel. Being the first woman who broke rules, she proved that a woman can be a great sculptor. She was the beautiful muse and paramour to Auguste Rodin (her master), the most important sculptor of modern times, his hallmark sculpture being “Thinker.” So haunted was he by her memory that in a feverish state before his death, he’d asked to see her. Reine-Marie Paris, grand-daughter of Camille’s brother Paul Claudel, defied family taboos and revealed, from Camille’s letters to Paul, that her family had allowed Camille to fade away among madwomen. They ignored doctors’ suggestions that she return to her family. Camille never did sculpt again in her last 30 asylum years. She died in 1943 at age 78. Camille exemplifies an artist’s rebelliousness and talent, but the dye was cast against her. No one cared or dared to rescue her from obsessive delusions, not even her lover Rodin who died in 1917, the brother she doted upon, nor the mother who hated her. In her paranoia she destroyed most of her sculptures, only 90 masterpieces were later found. Camille fought for women’s rights and has since gained recognition as a breakthrough sculptress of the 20th century. I’ll be continuing to write about a few women’s courage that brought real change towards achieving gender equality.

To download above article in PDF Asserting creativity, breaking barriers

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