I Am No Man : A 17-Year-Old’s Pickle with History Textbooks
By Priyal Thakkar
Tara Anand, a high school student from Mumbai, recently challenged the male-centric narrative of (Indian) history through a powerful series of illustrations titled ‘I am no man’. Beautifully capturing the essence of forgotten female warriors, here’s what the 17-year-old had to say!
School of Doodle: The Great Man theory is a 19th-century idea, according to which history can be largely explained by the impact of “great men”, or heroes. Your series, ‘I am no man’, brings to light that history is made of men, by men, and for men. At what point did you realise that not a lot of women made it to your history textbooks?
Tara Anand: I recently went abroad for a course and we had a conversation about powerful queens in history and I was surprised at how many of the names I rattled off were western women. As soon as I got back I dug out my Amar Chitra Kathas and my laptop, and got to researching Indian warrior queens out of sheer embarrassment that I could only name two or three. Honestly I was totally taken aback by the number of powerful queen regents and warriors that I could find and shocked at how totally their contributions had been left out of the mainstream narrative. I think that’s when I realized how little I knew about something I considered to be an area of interest for myself.
SOD: Representation is immensely important. How do you think this series helped you, and what it could mean to young girls?
TA: This series essentially debunked an idea that I have been uncomfortable with accepting for a long time, that “strong” Indian women only existed after Indian women were “liberated” from their oppressive culture by western feminists. I simply couldn’t believe that in a country so old and vast, no women had ever fought for what they believed in. I think it’s also important to notice that a lot of these women were rule breakers. They defied social norms (refused to commit Sati) and embraced their own power. That’s what this should mean to young girls and also that you don’t need to be nontraditional in order to be a feminist.
These women were Indian to the core, they didn’t need westernization to liberate them. I want to destroy the idea that women in countries like India can only be feminists if they westernize themselves because India doesn’t have a history of feminism. This series should be proof enough that it does.
SOD: Who has been your favourite forgotten warrior to discover?
TA: Rani Rudrama Devi is one of my favorites! She was only 14 when she started ruling and leading armies. When I was 14, I was busy not doing my homework and rereading Harry Potter.
SOD: Feminist literature has long been around, but not a lot of people are aware of the feminist art movement. Why do you think it took so long to catch up?
TA: I actually think feminist art has existed for a long time, it just tends to be a lot more subversive than feminist literature because very often it aims to shock its audience which means it features imagery or ideas that aren’t accepted in the mainstream. Furthermore, women have been present in the art movement for centuries but for the male gaze. It’s a trope that exists across cultures and through centuries of classical art.
A lot of feminist art turns this convention on its head and depicts women for women and not for male consumption. Since it goes against something so native to art, it’s not accepted in the mainstream.
SOD: What challenges do you think it (the feminist art movement) faces today?
TA: Intersectionality. I think feminist art is pointless if there’s just middle class white women making it. Feminist art needs to extend to women around the world and from all conceivable backgrounds. Everybody should be able to identify with it and be inspired by it, not just a niche population.