An artistic transformation took place among women living in a cluster of villages in Bihar, northeastern India, once high-quality paper became available to them in the 1960s. In the Mithila region—the region that was home to Sita, heroine of the Ramayana—women maintained a long tradition of painting the walls and floors of their households with auspicious diagrams and deities. As women began adapting traditional imagery and painting new subjects on paper, the work in their distinctive regional style was seen outside their immediate environment for the first time.
This exhibition of 30 paintings from a private collection includes works by 9 exceptional women artists from these villages. Their work became known in India's cities within a couple of years, and connections to the international art world followed in the 1970s and 1980s. Their innovations and individual styles are introduced in the first grouping of art within the exhibition. Two groundbreaking series of narrative paintings are also featured: one depicting episodes from the artist Lalita Devi’s own life, and another series is by Baua Devi, based on a local legend of snake spirits (nagas). The progress of the artists’ work from this distinctive area—or “Land of Sita”—reflects some of the changes taking place in their lives and of many women elsewhere.
–Sarah Loudon, guest curator
To explore this exhibition a little deeper, download our bibliography. Teachers, integrate Women's Paintings from the Land of Sita into your classroom with our Paintings of the Ramayana Educator Resource List.
The exhibition was organized by the Seattle Art Museum. Major Sponsors were Najma and Firoz Lalji. Benefactors were Ann L. Pryde, Carlo and Lalie Scandiuzzi. Patron Sponsor was Microsoft. Endowment Support from the Mimi Gates Asian Art Exhibition Endowment. Media Sponsor was Sound Publishing Inc.
Family gathering of nagas, 1975–1985, Baua Devi (Indian, born late 1940s), pigment on paper, 30 x 22 in., Collection of Gursharan and Elvira Sidhu. © Baua Devi, photo: Elizabeth Mann.